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Unicorn's Blood

Overview

By the author of Firedrake's Eye: a masterpiece of voice, historical detail, and psychological insight to rival Peter Ackroyd and A. S. Byatt

England in the mid-1580s faced an array of international foes and was torn internally by religious strife. At its center was a slight woman of exceptional intellectual brilliance. Her stature approached that of a deity -- Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. But this icon was more than a reflection of the...

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Overview

By the author of Firedrake's Eye: a masterpiece of voice, historical detail, and psychological insight to rival Peter Ackroyd and A. S. Byatt

England in the mid-1580s faced an array of international foes and was torn internally by religious strife. At its center was a slight woman of exceptional intellectual brilliance. Her stature approached that of a deity -- Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. But this icon was more than a reflection of the Queen's personal charisma, it was a political creation, designed to hold a fractious people together.

Unicorn's Blood is about a dangerous secret, the existence of a private diary kept by the Queen as a young princess. Should this stolen journal, embroidered with a unicorn that has a ruby for an eye, fall into the wrong hands, its intimate revelations would destroy the entire edifice of Tudor government.

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Editorial Reviews

Allison Heisch
A novel that is so good and so much fun that I'm about to read it again. Finney is my favorite new author. -- Women's Review of Books
Library Journal
Using some of the same real and imagined characters that appeared in Firedrake's Eye (St. Martin's, 1992) but standing totally on its own, Finney's latest work is another superior novel of intrigue during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. This time the plot revolves around a long-lost diary that the queen kept as a young woman, which not only contains her will naming Mary Queen of Scots her heir but also reveals a liaison with Thomas Seymour that ended in an aborted pregnancy. Now Mary is imprisoned and Elizabeth is daily being hounded by her advisors to order her execution. If the diary, embossed with a unicorn on the cover, can be found, these men will have additional ammunition to persuade Elizabeth that Mary must die in order to prevent the succession of a Catholic to the English throne. Finney, who studied history at Oxford, effectively re-creates Elizabethan England, describing its bawdy, colorful, and cruel aspects with a sure hand. Essential for public libraries.Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312200398
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 12/1/1998
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 10.34 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Finney attended Oxford, where she read history. Her first novel, A Shadow of Gulls, won the prestigious David Higham award. Unicorn's Blood is her fourth novel. She lives in England.

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Reading Group Guide

So where shall we begin, in this tale of unicorns and virgins? In the head of my usurper, the earthly Queen Elizabeth, I think. She lies peacefully in darkness on a clean linen pillow, the rose-water that took the red cinnabar and white-lead paint from her skin leaving ghosts of gardens about her cheeks. Her hair is cut short and no longer the fair burnished copper that men praised in her youth, but an ugly shade between grey and red, now hidden by an embroidered cap. Her alabaster skin is furrowed and freckled with the footprints of Time. But when she sleeps, the folds relax and the guile and statecraft melt away until it is as if a child peeks from behind a crumpled mask." (p. 2)

In her first novel since the critically acclaimed Firedrake's Eye, Patricia Finney has written a masterpiece of voice, of historical detail and of psychological insight that rivals the best of Umberto Eco and Rose Tremain.

England, mid-1580s. Facing an array of international foes and torn internally by religious strife, England finds that its safety depends more than ever on a slight woman of exceptional intellectual brilliance, a master of realpolitik-Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, Gloriana. Elizabeth is revered like a goddess, her stature a shrewd political tool designed to hold her people together. And it's about to be destroyed by a dark revelation from a hidden part of her past.

Unicorn's Blood is about a dangerous secret, the existence of a private diary kept by the Queen as a young princess. Should this stolen journal, embroidered with a unicorn that has a ruby for an eye, fall into the wrong hands, its intimate revelations would destroy the entire edifice of Tudor government. This guide is designed to help you navigate the twists and turns of Patricia Finney's intricately wrought work.

Discussion Questions:
1. Why did the author chose to narrate this story through the voice of a defrocked nun? What does this have to do with the historical context of the novel?

2. Discuss the relationship between religion and politics in the 16th century. Are there any contemporary examples of parallel power struggles?

3. Discuss the nature of feminine power in the novel. How is it related to the characters' beauty and sexuality, and how does this interplay affect the personal and political lives?

4. Discuss the symbolism of the unicorn. In how many ways is it related to the concept of virginity, and Elizabeth's in particular? What is the significance of the title?

5. Discuss the perils that faced the characters in this novel. What is the relationship between their spiritual and earthly concerns?

6. What is the purpose of having the prologue follow the body of the text? What ramifications does this have for the plot of the novel?

7. Who is the real Elizabeth and why is this important?

8. How would you answer the question at the end of the book, "Now judge if you would have done different?" (p. 363)

About the Author:
Patricia Finney attended Oxford, where she read history. Her first novel, A Shadow of Gulls, won the prestigious David Higham award. Unicorn's Blood is her fourth novel. Ms. Finney lives in England.

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