Throughout his career, renowned science fiction writer William Gibson has often shifted direction in unexpected ways, so in a sense longtime readers should not be surprised by his latest novel, Realm of the Enchanted Unicorn, his first venture into heroic fantasy. In the opening chapter, we are introduced to young Tom, apprentice to a cobbler in a rustic village of the faraway land of Rigamarrole, whose life changes on the day he receives a visit from the renowned wizard Sagebeard. He tells Tom that he is actually the son of the late King Stalwart, who had been executed by the country’s current ruler, the evil Ulrich the Usurper. According to ancient lore, Tom is the only man who will be able to defeat the powerful Ulrich and, by taking the throne that is rightfully his, restore peace and harmony to the land.
However, Sagebeard continues, Tom will first have to recruit several Destined Companions, and locate a number of Magical Tokens, since these will be absolutely essential to the success of his quest. This enables Gibson, even within this new setting, to follow his traditional strategy of keeping the plot in motion by having all of his protagonists pursue some desired object. In this particular novel, Tom and Sagebeard must venture into the dreaded Sinister Swamp in order to capture the mythical creature that is the first item on the list of Tokens they must acquire: the Muck Griffin.
As Gibson’s heroes battle ogres, dodge dragons, admire unicorns, and consult with elves while seeking their elusive goal, his fans may sometimes feel that they are reading the work of an entirely different author. But Gibson reminds us that he is no ordinary fantasy writer with flashes of his distinctive prose style. He begins his novel with the evocative opening line, “The sky above the portal was the color of porridge, spooned into a lead vessel.” Then, after Tom and his companion discover that a magical potion designed to ward off evildoers also has an appealing, intoxicating effect, the narrator knowingly comments, “The quest finds its own uses for things.” Gibson coins a cunning new term for Sagebeard’s very limited power to see into the future: “pattern precognition.” And, following the genre’s traditions, Gibson includes a detailed map of his fantasy realm displaying the evocative names of places not yet visited, like the Pixie Flatlands, the Goblin Continuum, and Sprite Country.
While some may end this novel hoping that Gibson will soon return to the modern stories of cutting-edge technology that he is famous for, he clearly plans to linger in this new fantasy world for a considerable time, as evidenced by the novel’s final line: “The dodecology will continue with Lair of the Accursed Dragon.” Thus, it seems, there will be additional Gibson fantasies to review in many Aprils to come.