Okay, first of all, unicorns exist. Deal with it. Second, my friend, Suzanne de Montigny (her name's harder to write than a good lima bean recipe) has written a stellar middle-grade/YA fantasy novel about unicorns. Read it. It's good. And Ms. de Montigny takes that extra step to make it very odd which I appreciate. If you're a fan of the great Japanese fantasist, Hayao Miyazaki, then this will appeal to you. It puts me in mind of Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke." Both of these epic fantasies have green tales to tell in entertaining ways.
So, hey, enough of my yakking. What's up, Suzanne, and why Unicorns?
When I was a girl, I wanted a horse more than anything in the world, but never got one. Unicorns were just an extension of that. I was also a dog and cat lover. The love of animals ran in my family.
*I love animals too, Suzanne. But my dog's about to drive me up the wall. Want him? Anyway, I digress. The juxtaposition between unicorns and dinosaurs threw me for a loop at first. But you made it work. Truly imaginative. What inspired you to mix up the two very unusual critters?
The entire story is based on a story I wrote in grade six. It was six chapters long and fully illustrated by my sister. In the original book, the unicorn’s best friend was a stegosaurus named Dino. Later, as an adult, I changed him into a gigantisaurus named Darius in the new book.
*Um, if I beg, can we PLEASE see some of those illustrations? Pretty please with a horn on top? No? Fine. Back to the interview. Will we see Azaria and friends age along with the books or will they remain at a young age?
No, you won’t see them except possibly for a page or two depending on what I decide. The next story takes place 60 years in the future. New characters, new situation. But I will tell you that they do find Darius again. He’s very old now, but still the same wonderful creature he always was.
*I know the books are geared toward middle-grade readers, but, honestly, they're awesome for all age ranges. Devious plan or happy circumstance?
Happy circumstances. In reality, the unicorns’ situation resembles the plight of the rhinos and elephants in Africa who are poached for the ivory in their horns. This story gives a first-hand look at the problem through the eyes of the animal hunted.
*Okay, awesome, you're my kinda' person, Suzanne. Reading your book, I was put in mind of Richard Adam's classic Watership Down. The Shadow Of The Unicorn shares many environmental concerns and is very humane. Was Adam's book an influence?
No, it wasn’t. I only read his book about a year ago. Just loved it.
*Whatever you do, don't watch the British animated adaptation of Adam's follow-up book, The Plague Dogs. Good Lord, they even turned the ending more downbeat. Kids stay away for fear of future scarring! Okay. Sorry. Back to you. Would you consider yourself an animal rights activist (okay, I know this question's outta' nowhere, but to me, the book practically screams out for animal rights)?
No, I'm not. I'm definitely concerned about the extinction of animals through land encroachment, global warming, and poaching, we do live in an eco-system. So when I see news stories about deer attacking humans and animal rights activists screaming to leave them alone, my immediate thought is: but we live in an eco-system where the numbers would be controlled by hunting by humans and other creatures. I mean, if I go walking into the woods alone in cougar country, there’s a good chance I might be eaten by a cougar since I’m part of that food chain. I think hunting is okay if it the meat is used for food. But I don’t think people should engage in it just for sport, and definitely not for the harvest of ivory.
*But, Suzanne, where do zombies fit into your world-view? I think everyone should take a zombie to lunch. Digressing again. You present a pretty bleak portrait of humanity with the particularly heinous villain Ishmael, although I found his characterization interesting. Do you have any empathy for him Do you feel he's greed-driven? Doesn't know any better? Pure evil and hubris at work? Can we expect a kinder side of humanity in the future?
He’s absolutely greed-driven! And no, I have 0 empathy for him. He has no concept of animals having souls or feelings. They’re either meant for the table, or as beasts of burden, in this case—healers. Yes, we shall find kinder humans, but it’ll take a while. A lot of the second book deals with the need to trust some humans. Then, in the last book, it’s unicorn pitted against unicorn.
*Okay, the idea of unicorn against unicorn scares me, Suzanne. I love your creatures. Make the killing stop! I imagine Shadow Of The Unicorn will leave a lasting impression on your middle-grade readers. There's a lot of sadness, death of likable characters, and a fear of an uncertain future. I remember being that age and this is the kind of book I liked; strong, no coddling, ultimately hopeful. Thoughts?
I like to write stories that teach children values. And in order to finish the lesson I’m teaching, I have to end with the unicorns triumphing. Book one ended on a sour note because it’s not over yet for another two books.
*Suzanne, are we looking at an alternative time-line, different universe or the past?
Definitely an alternate history. It happens 12,000 years ago. And though some small mammals did exist alongside dinosaur in later history, I’ve made humans, equines, and dinosaurs wander the earth all at the same time.
*You've said the original version of Shadow was a lot more downbeat and depressing. Call me morbid, but I want to know how.
Morbid doesn’t describe it. Far more unicorns died. And you know the scene where Ishmael gathered up his cronies to slaughter all the unicorns in his pen for their horns? In the first version, he succeeded. But my sister read it and thought it was too cruel, so I introduced Adiva, Ishmael’s compassionate wife, who lets them go. Also, near the end, both of Azaria’s parents were killed. Again, my sister cried, “NO!” so I changed it to Polaris sacrificing himself for the herd.
*Good grief. Thank God for Adiva. Um, cheer up? Lol. Is there a major unicorn plan in place? Epic? I want to know and I want to read! How many books in the series can we anticipate?
Yes. I’m nearly finished rewriting the second of the trilogy. We are cast forward sixty years in time where a corrupt Great Stallion rules through intimidation and by creating a false god. Only one, very old unicorn remembers the truth and the story is mostly about the quest to find the truth. Also, there is another huge natural disaster impending. I’m planning on submitting this one to Muse in January.
*Sounds great, looking forward to it. Okay, cheat time. From our previous correspondence, you dropped a mention about a mystery involving violins. I put you on the spot, so spill the details. Can we expect to read it soon?
My boys and I are avid fiddlers. We study with one of the top fiddlers in Canada when she’s not on tour. In this story, Kira, a 13-year-old child prodigy in classical violin, has a tough time fitting in the small town of Hope. Her father dies at the beginning, and the money put aside for the new violin needed to do her final exam will be used to pay household expenses until the will comes through. To add to the angst, a strange red-haired fiddler with strange pale blue eyes attends her father’s funeral, and within days takes the town by storm with her mysterious Celtic music. Then when someone begins vandalizing the town, leaving dead and gutted birds as a calling card, only Kira knows who the real perpetrator is.
*Very intriguing! Bonus question, but don't treat it as much: What's your least favorite food? Ever?
It’s a toss up between liver and brussel sprouts.
*Hmm. Have to give it up to liver, Suzanne. Or lima beans.
Anyway. You guys go pick up Suzanne's book, The Shadow Of The Unicorn. Very different, very good and recommended, particularly for those imaginative at heart.