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Riding the Unicorn Paperback – 6 Nov 2014

4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Solaris (6 Nov. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781081905
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781081907
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 2 x 13 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,109,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Paul Kearney was born in Northern Ireland. He studied Old Norse, Middle English and Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, and subsequently lived for several years in both Denmark and the United States. He lives in County Down, in a croft with a boat by the door.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. Whitehead TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 17 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
vJohn Willoby is a former soldier turned prison officer: strong, stoic, disciplined. But his home life is empty and hollow. His daughter despises him, his wife is a stranger. When Willoby starts having visions of a fresh verdant land and hears voices in his head, he must face the prospect that he is going mad...

The Kristill are a hardy race of warriors who thrive on horseback. Driven from their homeland by an alliance of opposing tribes, they have been forced to cross a towering mountain range to seek a new homeland. The bastard son of the king and his friend, a mage of tremendous power, hatch a plan to remove the king from power, a plan that requires an ally from another world...

Riding the Unicorn was Paul Kearney's third novel, published in 1994. Unliked his later books, which are wholly secondary world-set stories, these early books are a blend of fantasy with 'real-world' protagonists either crossing over or being influenced by fantastical forces. An obvious touchstone with Riding the Unicorn is Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series, with it being rather ambiguous whether Willoby is really experiencing what he appears or if he is merely insane. Although the narrative leads us to conclude that Willoby's experiences are real, that sense of someone fearing they area losing their mind and being both terrified and exulted by the prospect comes across superbly.

This is a rather downbeat book, an examination of murder, betrayal, manipulation and dysfunctional families. At the same time it's not quite as relentlessly bloody as some of Kearney's other works and there are strong elements of hope present in the finale of the novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Livvy on 28 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback
I have to admit that I don't read many books written by men, and my favourite books are usually from the Mills & Boon Blaze line. In addition to this, I have not really liked written science fiction in the past and I much preferred to watch films of this genre. Therefore, this book should have been the worst fit ever (I bought it years ago, and can't even remember why) but I have to say that I really enjoyed it. The detail is amazing and draws you straight into both worlds (and I will admit to blinking back tears for Merrin). I am pleased to see that the author is still writing, and I look forward to reading much more of his work. By the way, A. Whitehead's review is absolutely spot on. Read it!
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Format: Kindle Edition
Willoby is a middle-aged prison guard, a husband and a father. But at heart, he still pines for his days as a soldier. His job is not his calling, there is distance between him and his wife, and his teenage daughter resents him. When he starts having visions and seizures, his first fear is that losing consciousness would be very dangerous in his job. For the first time ever, he takes time off for sickness. Then, his visions start to affect not just his job, but his family life.

In his visions, he is pulled into another world, first as an observer through the eyes of a prince, but then physical transfers between worlds start to happen. The other world is medieval, filled with a people who have just fled from their former homelands across icy mountains into a new land, keen to start new lives. But intrigue is afoot, and for complex reasons, the bastard prince Tallimon needs an outsider. He needs Willoby.

Riding the Unicorn is not your average fantasy novel, nor even your average person-from-our-world-goes-into-fantasy-world novel. For one thing, our protagonist is a flawed man. He's gritty and rough. In fact, he is a thug, and not just because his language is tough and he works in a prison. In fantasy novels, you don't get many working class protagonists who occasionally hit their wives.

The world he enters, meanwhile, may have some fantastical elements - some magic, some monsters - but the magic is understated, the monsters just fauna, really. Today's readers might be tempted to compare this world to Westeros, except this novel was originally published before Game of Thrones, so it definitely isn't derivative.

This is an intelligent, authentic novel.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Mar. 2000
Format: Hardcover
Superb stuff.Kearney is certainly a young author with immense talent...I bet there's more to come.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A marvellously vivid novel by an outstanding young author. 14 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is not Paul Kearney's best book...not by any means. That only goes to prove what an exceptional talent he is, and that is a travesty that his work often seems to go largely unnoticed. The central protagonist is Willoughby, a tough and stoic prison officer who leads a less-than-ideal domestic life with his wife and daughter, and believes he is slowly going mad after hearing stranges sounds and tongues in his mind. His life takes a drastic change when he finds himself transported to a completely different and fantasical land where he will play a crucial role in the development of the kingdom. Because Willoughby is not mad.Don't let the cover to this book put you off. It is incredibly well written and goes much further than the boundaries of traditional fantasy. The rich and vivid characters and landscapes of the new world contrast wonderfully with the bleak and depressing life that Willoughby led before his "madness". The political intrigue and scenarios within the new world are of the highest calibre.I simply couldn't put this book down and would like to go on record by saying that I predict that if there is any justice in the world at all, that Kearney will prove to be a major, major talent. You heard it here first.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
One in a million. 16 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a tremendous novel. It captures the readers imagination in wondrous fashion with beautifully described characters and landscapes, with some good old fashioned story-telling thrown in for good measure. The main character is a flawed hero, by no means lovable, but this serves to add to the gritty realism that makes this particular book so addictive. None of your childish young squires going off to do battle with dragons and winning the hand of the fair maiden here!!! This is fantasy writing at its most original, and best. I recommend it highly.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A new staple in fantasy 27 Sept. 2014
By Steve White - Published on
Format: Paperback
I read Fantasy, a little. I've read the Thomas Covenant series. I've seen Army of Darkness. So the troubled-outcast-becomes-hero-in-a-new-world theme is not new to me. I was interested to see this take on it, but I was skeptical. After all, those are some hard shoes to fill. This story not only fills them, it needs an extra wide.
This story breaks molds that have been held as Fantasy staples. Build characters, introduce obstacle, overcome objective, build more story and character. That's the tried and true recipe. Not in this case.
Now, I'm not going to ruin this story by spoiling anything because I think you need to read this book. What I will tell you is it's like running down hill chased by a bear. You don't quit running. You just run faster until the very end. And the end is so magnificently done.
I know this book is a reissue, and it should be. I think it deserves a new audience. It pulled me in, and it will you too.
Look - He's Smiling 29 Oct. 2014
By ATG Reviews - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
(An advanced copy was provided by the publisher - 4.5 stars).

Riding the Unicorn was first published in 1994, and is now being re-released in the hopes that it finds a new audience … something this book certainly deserves. The final of three stand-alones, before he would write the Monarchies of God series that would earn him his success, Paul Kearney’s Riding the Unicorn meshes the realism of our world with a traditional medieval fantasy while still managing to turn something out that resists a number of cliches that are so commonly associated with the fantasy genre.

Kearney’s book revolves around the character John WIlloby – Willoby being a last name that sounds like an animal that lives in the Australian Outback and is a lot of fun to say with an Australian accent. Willoby is a middle-aged man, a war veteran, and currently employed as a prison guard. One day he starts hearing voices and getting brief glimpses into a world that is not his own, fearing madness he seeks psychiatric help. In Willoby’s hallucinations he starts getting drawn into a medieval world where a bastard prince named Tallimon plans on using the unsuspecting Willoby in a plot to gain control of the kingdom.

The first half of Riding the Unicorn focuses on our world, where Willoby works at a prison, has a marriage that’s falling apart, and has a daughter that doesn’t talk to him. As a character Willoby holds it hall together, and just because he’s the protagonist doesn’t mean that he’s that great of a person. He hits his wife, he neglects his daughter, and he has a history with the bottle and violence. Despite his issues he can be sympathetic in his self reflection. Willoby realizes his flaws and he does make the effort to try and fix the dieing relationships in his life. The problem is he doesn’t know how, and he now has the added burden of madness. Willoby’s visual hallucinations eventually start to become one of the few pleasures in his life. It allows him an escape from the real world, and really starts to make this a book that’s not about one man repairing relationships, but about a man who’s trying to feel what it’s like to be happy again.

In the fantasy world Willoby visits, Tallimon is a true Machiavellian in his quest for power. His best friend Cardillac, his wizard Aimon, and his lover Merrin have had long meaningful relationships with the prince, but his lust for power compromises their safety. As Tallimon disenchants himself from his closest friends, Willoby begins to charm them. At the same time though Tallimon’s plot puts a huge barrier between them as well. Watching Willoby and Tallimon’s allies trying to work with each other despite their forced opposition to one another holds the fantasy portion of the book together nicely.

However, the back-half does feel like it’s getting rushed at times. There’s a lot happening in the plot, and just not enough time to get everything down on the page. I also found myself wishing there was more talking about how similar and how different the two worlds were, once Willoby enters the fantasy world, but this aspect is mostly glimpsed over. Despite the real quick pace, Kearney manages to still tell a great story. Even more important is the fact that he ends his story real well, leaving open ends where they need to be, and concluding the parts of the story that need to be concluded. This may seem like an obvious statement, but I believed throughout the book Kearney was going to mess this ending up – a lot of other fantasy author’s would have – but he doesn’t and that’s something that definitely deserves mentioning.

Kearney’s fantasy is an interesting take on world within world fantasy stories. It plays with the cliches of the genre, but manages to avert following them completely, creating a story that really feels like its own. If you’re looking for a quicker fantasy read, that’s geared towards adults and manages to stray from typical conventions, Riding the Unicorn might be just what you’re looking for.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A genuine page-turner 14 Oct. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book was written by perhaps the most under-rated author I have ever come across. It was an absolutely fascinating and hugely enjoyable read and I look forward to more of Kearney's work in the future.
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