In The Lion and the Unicorn, Helena Vor combines elements of historical romance, fantasy, and the classic hero’s journey to craft an enthralling tale of loyalty, bravery, love, loss, redemption, and forgiveness.
Set in England during the Middle Ages, the novel concerns 24-year-old Andrian Gilbert de Langeais (or Andrian the Ruthless, as he’s widely known), the crown prince of Briton and fearsome commander of the most powerful military in the Western world. For nine years, Andrian waged war in Jerusalem, pillaging villages and slaying traitors to his father’s crown. Andrian’s brutality shames King Arundle, and when Andrian returns home, the King revokes his command and denounces Andrian’s marriage to his Egyptian wife, Farida.
Andrian deplores King Arundle’s disapproval, as well as his favoritism for Andrian’s half-brother Prince Julian. Moreover, when his marriage ends, Andrian rages in angry desolation, and his vicious sullenness prompts a rebuke from King Arundle. Embittered, Andrian surrenders to his nature’s darker impulses. The consequences are catastrophic, yet Andrian’s greatest revelations come to him in his despair.
While Andrian’s depravity is central to Vor’s gripping debut, his humanity is paramount. Andrian destroys wantonly, yet loves profoundly. He avenges, yet begs for mercy. His comportment conveys cold-bloodedness, yet there are “dark clouds [in his eyes], the storm of lonesome terror that he could not hide even when he grinned.” Vor’s ability to balance Andrian’s duality stands as one of the novel’s greatest attributes.
Additionally, Vor’s prose is precise, elegant, and emotive. Phrases such as the following abound: “He weakened when he knew that he must rise and live his life”’; “His nothingness had become everything.” Battle scenes are rendered with intensity, the era feels authentic, and characters are multidimensional.
Two quibbles: Early on, there’s a wearying overuse of italics in Vor’s dialogue, and although Andrian’s bloodline derives from France, curiously, he’s the only character who speaks occasionally in French.
Overall, however, The Lion and the Unicorn is impressive, theme-driven fiction with an ending that demands a sequel.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.