Deep in the heart of a mist-shrouded island, an impossible secret is about to be discovered.
Twig is used to feeling unwanted. Sent to live on a pony ranch for "troubled" girls on a misty, haunted island, Twig is about to discover the impossible. Someone who needs her.
Jolted awake from a bad dream, Twig follows the desperate whinny of a terrified horse out to the stables. There in the straw is a bleating little scrap of moonbeam. A silver-white filly with cloven hooves and a tiny, spiraling horn.
A baby unicorn.
Now Twig knows what secret is hiding in the island's mist: the last free unicorn herd. And a mysterious boy named Ben who insists that this impossible creature is now Twig's to care for. That she needs Twig's love and protection. Because there's something out there in the deep, dense shadows that's hunting for them...
I was pleasantly surprised by WONDER LIGHT: UNICORNS OF THE MIST (hereby shortened to WONDER LIGHT). Having been a big fan of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, I was excited to see how R.R. Russell would handle the portrayal of unicorns in a children's book. These are not the unicorns of old, innocent and pure and for virginal maidens only. Oh, sure, the archetype is there, but from the mists of Lonehorn Island, a new breed of unicorn has risen: blood-thirsty and murderous. Such a refreshing twist! (Rest assured, parents, this isn't a book that will induce nightmares.)
I'll admit, even though I am a grown woman, I was swept away by the impending doom of the wild unicorns and Twig's desperate attempts to keep the Murleys, the other girls, and the rest of the inhabitants of Lonehorn Island safe. R.R. Russell knows how to build suspense!
Twig Tupper is an excellent character and, I believe, a great role model for young girls. She's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but she's smart, fiercely loyal, and compassionate. The story of how she came to be at the pony ranch unfolds slowly but with perfect pacing. I couldn't help but ache for her as she struggled with feelings of abandonment, loss, grief, and inadequacy, yet my heart soared when she came into her own and discovered unconditional love and acceptance, and most of all, an unshakable confidence in herself and a sense of purpose.
The other characters, big and small, were also well-written and I felt like I connected with most of them, especially Mr. and Mrs. Murley, the owners of Lonehorn Island Pony Ranch, and the guardians of the six "throw-away" girls. WONDER LIGHT doesn't glorify their roles as pseudo-parents, and instead shows them as flawed but compassionate individuals doing their best to love and care for children who are not their own. I loved the depth that R.R. Russell gave to each character within the book, especially the "Wild Boy", Ben, whose mysteriously-worded letter toward the end of the story makes me eager to read the sequel.
Another notable aspect of WONDER LIGHT is the incredibly detailed setting and atmosphere. I could picture Lonehorn Island and the yellow house on the pony ranch in my head just as clearly as if I were there. Even the descriptions of the meals that Mrs. Murley made had my mouth watering and my stomach grumbling in hungry protest! I was incredibly impressed by this, as I feel that, far too often, these types of details are glossed over in children's books. Kudos to R.R. Russell for writing such a brilliant novel in a genre that is often lacking in substance!
Overall, WONDER LIGHT is a suspenseful, exciting read especially for children who yearn for adventure and "something more" from their fairy tales. For families who like to read aloud, this is perfectly written for bedtime story time. I hope there is an audiobook of WONDER LIGHT in the future!
*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.