Title: Unicorn Tracks
Author: Julia Ember
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Format: eBook, 180 pages
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Release Date: April 21th, 2016
Rating: 3 out 5 stars
After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.
Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.
Mnemba is an excellent tracker, which makes her the safari guide in her cousin Tumelo’s business. When the Harvings come to Nazwimbe in search of unicorns, Mnemba and Mr Harving’s daughter Kara discover a sinister plot at the edge of the savanna during their expedition. After a mission to gain more information goes awry, Mnemba and Kara must work together and seek the help of Nazwimbe’s general in order to save their loved ones and prevent the country from spiraling into a disaster.
The premise of this book is honestly everything one might ask for. Set in a fantasy land inspired by African cultures? With almost a full cast of people of colour? Mythical creatures as art of the local fauna? And a promising f/f romance? It had me hooked right off the bat. I was fully prepared to love this book and let it destroy me in the best possible way. Alas, I’m very sad to say that was not the case. While Unicorn Tracks is not a bad book – far from it – it failed to impress me, despite its very compelling premise.
I adore fantasy books, especially when they don’t have the generic Victorian England vibe. Finding a good one that is influenced by places and cultures I rarely heard and/or read about feels like unearthing a rare gem. I am immediately prepared to love the book. Which is why I feel especially guilty when I don’t. I am not saying I hated Unicorn Tracks but I cannot say I loved it either. It’s more of a liking it, but with Strings Attached. Were it not for the few issues I have with this book, I probably would’ve given it at least a 4.5 star rating.
Let’s start off with what I liked most – the setting. While I do feel that there could have been more development in the world-building, I definitely enjoyed what we got quite a lot. From what the book offers us, we learn that Nazwimbe is a still-developing country, trying to keep up with the rest of the world’s advances, but despite that, and the tough way of travelling to and fro, it is a popular tourist destination because of its wide variety of mythological creatures. Which are not so mythological there, of course. I was fascinated while reading about Nazwimbe’s customs and traditions, especially the laws and the repercussions of breaking them.
Mnemba is a great, well-rounded main character whose narrative is easy to follow and understand, but it felt a little emotionless to me and that’s why I couldn’t fully relate to her. I felt more for those around her than Mnemba herself, especially Bi Trembla who just might be my favourite out of everyone, alongside Mnemba’s little brother. As for the other main character… I didn’t like Kara. At all. She felt either too underdeveloped or maybe I didn’t care enough to notice and that’s why she felt flat. I struggled to figure out her motivations or even if she had any and didn’t at all appreciate how reckless and disregarding of the rules. Yes, sometimes risks need to be taken, but the ones Kara made were unnecessary and I was sad she roped Mnemba up in them.
The romance started out cute and I was fully prepared to love it. But then it got a little too close to the insta-love border and my excitement waned. Then it happened with no real foundation behind it other than Mnemba’s constant thoughts of Kara’s hair and skin colour. And then it got brushed aside till it became convenient to use again. I felt, also, that it was more of a codependent relationship at times than an actual romance and each character was using the other for their own gain rather than having genuine feelings. I would have liked it if both Mnemba’s and Kara’s more sensitive issues were touched upon more as well.
In conclusion, Unicorn Tracks is a good light fantasy novel takes the readers to a fascinating new place with rich culture and they spend only a few hours with magical beings coming straight out the imagination. While it wasn’t the most captivating read of my life, I still had fun reading about Mnemba’s world and would definitely like to learn more about it.