Fantasy Checklist Challenge: Magical Beasts

~ posted by Jessica H.

The Last UnicornIf you’re unfamiliar with fantasy, Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is a quiet classic.  A unicorn is told by hunters that she is the last of her immortal kind, causing her to wonder if this is true.  As she leaves her forest, she is recognized by humans as simply a white mare, as magic has left the world.  The unicorn wanders, seeking her lost kin.  As she wanders, she meets a magician, a bandit’s wife, and a king.  While the book is written about a fantastic and magical world, the writing is intimate and emotionally complex, reflecting the conflicts within the main characters.  It’s a wonderful book for people who don’t think they like fantasy, but do enjoy well-drawn characters.  The movie based on the book can be polarizing, but it still manages to capture the pathos of the characters.

The Black GryphonGriffins aren’t quite as iconic as unicorns, but they’re close.  If you have a griffin itch you need to scratch, Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon’s Mage Wars trilogy’s main character is a griffin (or gryphon in the trilogy), starting with The Black Gryphon.  Set during a war between two mages, the star pupil of one is Skandranon Rashkae, a young and self-important mage and soldier gryphon.  When a seer senses a world-ending magical weapon across enemy lines, it’s Skan who is sent to retrieve it.  This is a prequel set approximately two thousand years before Lackey’s Valdemar books, setting up many locations and species (yes, species, the mages create species) that appear in the later novels.  The second and third novels in the trilogy are The White Gryphon and The Silver Gryphon, both of which also focus on Skan and his adventures.

SoullessNot all beasts have four legs.  At least, not all the time.  Werewolves have moved from being minor characters in horror mythology to major players in the contemporary paranormal romance/urban fantasy genres.  Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series takes classic human monsters such as vampires and werewolves and upends them into an alternate steampunk world, one in which Queen Victoria still reigns over the British Empire, but the way you tie your cravat is just as important as how you greet the vampire next door.  Starting with Soulless, the main character, Alexia Tarabotti, must navigate being a proper British lady while handicapped by her scandalous Italian heritage, as well as avoiding vampires at house parties and distressingly unclad werewolves in the streets. After accidentally killing a vampire in a library, Alexia has to figure out what caused him to attack her, leading to involvement with the very un-proper Lord Maccon, leader of the London werewolves and the queen’s werewolf liason.  Bright, witty, and original, Alexia and Maccon’s story is a spectacularly original take on the Victorian novel, and her werewolves are more than just base emotions in a growling man package, they’re three-dimensional characters who just happen to become furry on occasion.

Other fantastical beasts can be found in P.C. Cast’s Divine By Mistake (centaurs), Pegasus by Robin McKinley, Lost Voices by Sarah Porter (mermaids), The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (ogres, trolls, dragons, and more), and of course, in the world of Harry Potter.

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