The Unicorn Road
On the coast of medieval Sicily an expedition, led by the scholar Antioch, sets sail for the East to seek out the wondrous beasts contained in an exquisite bestiary. A page, Benedict, the formidable General Decius, and the renowned translator, Venn, are amongst the travellers. Decius has his own agenda, one linked to the fate of the Cathars in France. Venn’s skills as a linguist are put to the ultimate test in China where he discovers a trail of messages written in a secret language shared only by women. His fate becomes entangled with that of Ming Yeuh, a young girl, who travels to the Emperor’s court to marry a warrior. When he fails to return, Benedict is sought by his father. Through his father’s narrative many of the novel’s themes and the characters’ true motives are revealed.
This is a remarkable novel which deserves to be shortlisted in 2009 for a serious prize. Davies’ prose is poetic and erudite, his plotting superb, the narrative gripping, and, above all, The Unicorn Road contains memorable characters the reader will find intriguing. Finally, the book has a moral integrity. It is set against a background of great power struggles which are repeated in our own times, but there is also the inspiration for the novel: the death of one of the last surviving users of nushi, a secret language passed down through generations of Chinese women.