Swept Away! The Secret of the Unicorn Queen, Book 1
Josepha Sherman, 1988
Fantasy Flashback is a week long event in which I'm re-reading books that were important to me as a young person. Important to me, not to the world of literature.
Okay, this one isn't a classic, not by a long shot. This is an obscure little book which has been out of print long enough for it to be re-released and for that printing to be out of print. For a brief time I was beginning to doubt that these books existed, even though I remember taking the whole set out of the local library when I was a kid. This took some doing, because it consisted of 6 books by 4 different authors. Why so many authors, I don't know; perhaps because they were all released in the space of 2 years? I don't really know anything about the story of how these books came to be.
Later there was the internet, and I discovered a small but devoted fanbase built up around this series. It's not exceptionally well-written or anything, so why are a few people determined not to let these books fall completely into obscurity?
A band of warrior women riding unicorns. When I was 11, that was just about the best thing ever.
Also, this book has my favorite version of the “modern kid falls into fantasy world” plot.
The very opening of the book is fairly dated and painful, but pretty quickly the experiment at Sheila's scientist friend's house (don't think too hard about it, it made perfect sense to me at the time) goes wrong, and she's falling into another world.
Lets compare, shall we?
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy basically meets the Munchkins, meets Glinda, and gets her quest immediately.
In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the kids walk through the snow for a bit, then meet the Beavers, have a nice dinner, and learn about Aslan.
In Swept Away, Sheila spends much of the first day walking across an endless grassland toward a bit of smoke. When she gets close, she needs to convince a bunch of twitchy warrior women that she's not an evil sorceress, so they won't kill her.
Dorothy (I don't remember, do any days pass in that book?) and the Narnia kids are just about done with the hard part of saving their worlds, meanwhile Sheila's trying hard not to collapse from exhaustion, learning to ride, learning to fight.
It's not actually that realistic, but it's almost gritty-for-kids. There's enough struggle involved that it felt real to me at that age. I loved that Sheila has to try so hard to learn to survive there.
The lesson came pretty close to being a disaster. Sheila, who had thought her arm was strong enough, found out that holding a fully drawn bow was very different from throwing a softball to first base. As hard as she tried to keep her arm steady, something always went wrong each time she loosed an arrow. The first one dropped right off the bow. The second shot straight up into the air. The third missed the target altogether and landed in a tree. Kara was very plainly holding in her temper, keeping her voice just a little too calm and quiet. But when the fourth arrow shot off at a wild angle, making the other women dive for cover, the archer shook her head.
I also like that Sheila, while the central protagonist, isn't the star of the fantasy epic aspect of the story. While she helps out, that story centers around Illyria, accomplished swordswoman and leader of the small band. Okay, so their mission is to free a bunch of unicorns from the evil empire, but the action is fun and decently executed.
There's a wisp of attraction between Sheila and Darian, Illyria's younger brother, and a bit of rivalry with Dian, the other young woman in the group. But honestly, the thing I loved about this book is that it's mostly a fantasy adventure starring women, working together. Same reason in later years I would love Oathbound, and others. Sometimes you just need a little girl power, and at 11, I needed a lot.
All the ratings this week come with a caveat: every book discussed this week was a five star book to 11 year-old me. So please keep that in mind, this is not a universal judgement, but a personal one.
29 year-old me gives Swept Away!: 3 Stars - A Good Book
Tomorrow: Dealing With Dragons