Jonty's unicorn by Rebecca Fraser

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Rebecca Fraser is a Mornington Peninsula writer who enjoys writing for Middle grade readers. Jonty's Unicorn is published by Queensland based publishing company IFWG which specialises in speculative fiction for middle grade, YA and adult readers. It is always pleasing to read the work of new Australian authors published by small Australian publishing companies. Palatino Linotype and Cleaver's Juvenia Heavy Typefaces have been chosen - a perfect choice for the intended readership. The coverwrap illustration, by award-winning fantasy illustrator Sarah Morrison, perfectly and correctly captures the darkness and the light - the essence of the story. The front cover depicts the pink softness of Rose the unicorn with Jonty's hand resting on her mane illustrating the trust between the young red-haired heroine with patched clothing and her magical steed as they overlook a distant fairytale castle. The back cover by contrast depicts the darkness and evil that threatens goodness. Compliments to the publishers!

Dagartha the witch lives in the dark forest that must be traversed by Jonty, her faithful horse Onyx and finally by Jonty and the magical unicorn Rose. Twelve-year-old Jonty is poor and lives with her dying mother in the quiet hamlet of Blaxby in the Kingdom of Irrawene. The cure for her mother's illness lies in a dangerous journey through the Terrenwild Woods to receive a tonic from the fearsome, relentlessly evil Dagartha. The price for the cure is extremely high both in gold and in regret. Jonty sees the annual great horse race as the only chance to achieve the amount of gold required and she and her beloved horse Onyx train hard. However, faithful Onyx falls causing Jonty to feel shame and regret for driving him too hard. Jonty rescues a magical and previously understood to be extinct pink unicorn from a hunter's trap. A magical quest ensues - full of dangerous encounters with dark forces of evil and the haughty, snobbish upperclass who don't believe a poor villager could possibly compete in the great horse race.

Bravery, trust and devotion are pitted against betrayal as the climax of the story approaches. The sacrifice demanded is powerfully moving. 

This is a thrilling fantasy story with many real life links that can be drawn to the current struggle for survival of unique wildlife including the white rhinoceros of Africa and the efforts of conservation officers to protect them, to the exclusive behaviour that exists because of class divisions everywhere and the ethics of the use of animals for sport especially horse racing.

Fraser's writing is rich in descriptive language. It could be viewed that Jonty's Unicorn is slightly overwritten in terms of the overeuse of adjectives. That could be a point of discussion. However the main character, Jonty, is allowed to emerge through her thoughts and actions. As instructional models of well constructed sentences, many passages could be chosen by teachers for students to peruse.

Jonty's Unicorn is a moving fantasy story. Recommended indeed!

Themes: Bravery, Sacrifice, Class division, Animal cruelty, Magic, Fantasy.

Wendy Jeffrey

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