This novel, like A Fine and Private Place (q.v.), features two interlaced love stories.The story of Li̒r and the Unicorn parallels that of Michael and Laura, while that of Schmendrick and Molly Grue parallels that of Rebeck and Klapper.The unicorn punctures Lír’s pretensions and he grows as a result, which is similar to Michael.Also, their love is destined to be impossible and it must come to an end.It may be a bit of a stretch to call Schmendrick and Molly’s relationship a love story, perhaps a friendship story would be closer, but I think the feeling of love is definitely there (and the love story between Rebeck and Klapper is more of a friendship also).Just as in the earlier novel, in this one the woman takes a childish man and helps him realize his potential.Beagle seems to offer a few hints that the books are meant to be seen in parallel (such as the fact that both have fourteen chapters).
The writing in this book is much more assured and flows more freely.Also, I like very much the poems and songs, some of which are actually quite good.For example:
Who has choices need not choose.
We must, who have none.
We can love but what we lose –
What is gone is gone.
Also, a number of the metaphors and similes are quite striking.The story is a classic fairy tale, with a unicorn (of course), a bold prince who performs heroic quests and has a wicked king for a father, a beautiful maiden who must be rescued, a wizard, etc., and Beagle frequently points out to the reader that it is a fairy tale and possesses all the standard fairy tale tropes by references to Robin Hood and the like (even going so far as to mention Francis James Child, the well known collector of English ballads).He pulls off the difficult trick of telling a fairy tale while at the same time winking at the reader without seeming coy or ironical.
Also worth noting in this connection are the many Shakespearian tags.In fact, it might almost be a prequel to King Lear, since Prince Lír becomes king in the end, and the difficulties children can present their father is one of the themes of the work (notice the inhabitants of Hagsgate who are afraid to bear children since they will bring about an end to their prosperity).
My favorite scene in the novel is the Midnight Carnival, with its echoes of The Circus of Dr. Lao.I especially like the creepy harpy.The whole novel is something of a tour de force: well drawn characters, a plot that surprises while being just right, and good writing.
By the way, Schmendrick does not mention why he chooses the name Amalthea for the young woman the unicorn is turned into.Amalthea was the goat that nursed the infant Zeus.While still a child, Zeus broke off one of Amalthea’s horns and this became the cornucopia, so in addition to being the last unicorn, Amalthea was also the first.