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Written By:

Ian White

Peter S. Beagle is a remarkable writer. Almost half a century after the release of the book that made him famous – The Last Unicorn – and now in his 78th year, he continues to produce exceptional work and The Overneath, an enchanting collection of short stories which – fans won’t be surprised to hear – also includes one or two new tales about unicorns, will only consolidate his legend even further. This anthology is a triumph.

The Overneath comprises thirteen tales, two of which feature one of Beagle’s best-loved characters, the ‘last of the red hot swamis’ Schmendrick the Magician, and the first entry (The Green-Eyed Boy) is a particular delight because it is a ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’ type prequel to The Last Unicorn, recounting young Schmendrick’s first encounter with the powerful wizard Nikos. It is an emotional opening, wise and romantic, and sets us up perfectly for the stories that are to follow (it will also make you want to dig out your dog-eared copy of The Last Unicorn and re-read it again).

In a collection where every tale is as good as the one that preceded it, it’s hard to choose favourites but there are three that, from a personal point-of-view, really stand out from the rest of the pack: ‘Underbridge’, about the real-life (well, kind of) Fremont Bridge Troll is a fantastic story about a University professor in crisis who becomes obsessed by the concrete Troll that is a local landmark (with unexpected results)… ‘Kaskia’, about an unhappily married man who begins messaging an alien on an unusual new laptop… and ‘Music, When Soft Voices Die’ which has a gentle steampunk sensibility wrapped around a central theme that hits you like a sledgehammer.

Maybe that’s what is so compelling about Beagle’s prose. He takes the extraordinary, makes it real, makes us care, and then swerves us into entirely unexpected territory. His storytelling is like the weaving of a spell – elegant, hypnotic and deeply exciting – but there’s an edge to it, a dangerousness, and an acute wisdom about the risks taken by the human heart. Absolutely breathtaking.


Ian White

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