Mysterious twists and turns on road to the East

The Unicorn Road

A young woman leaves her home, summoned to the emperor’s court and a husband she barely knows.

On the other side of the world, a famous scholar is sent to find and collect the mysterious beasts of legend in the unknown lands of the East.

He takes with him an interpreter, Venn, famous for his special gift with language.

The two groups of travellers are destined to cross paths, revealing the secret motives and hidden passions of those who are brought together.

Val: I found it confusing at the beginning because I was reading it in short bursts.

Graeme: It was interesting, made me think and go on to look into Kubla Kahn – Shadow of the Silk Road...

Moira: The cultural setting was fascinating.

Rosemary: The typography differences between the chapters was confusing at the beginning – perhaps he had to use that because the writing wasn’t sufficiently good to make the different strands of the story clear.

Val: It reminded me of reading fables and fairy tales to my grandchildren – the characters were emblematic and the language also felt familiar.

Graeme: The story of the boy was the carrot that pulled you through, you needed to know what happened to him. Compared to Sea of Poppies, this didn’t feel as rich, but it was an enjoyable read.

Rosamund: The story seemed slightly front-loaded to me, but it was very vivid and beautiful.

Maureen: I thought it was more about an era and the piety, God being in your head, a literal understanding. All the characters were drawn by what was happening in their different belief systems. In some ways it showed a sharing of the religious elements.

Moira: The author hasn’t travelled to China to my surprise. What fascinated me was the secret language of women.

Graeme: I think women still have their secret language!

Rosemary: My brother-in- law was Sicilian and I went to Palermo – he took me on a tour – I was astonished at what a centre it was as a port. The architecture there is so different from the rest of Italy – it had such a rich history, it gave me a sense of what we find in the book. The papacy – we went up to the papal palace while there – it was interesting to think of Prester John – one fantasy could be as much as another.

Graeme: At that time (13th century) in China – it was a mesh of so many different religions.

Maureen: I think it was the main character, Decius, who was thought of as tough and inhuman, whose humanity comes right through the book. He sees what needs to be done with his soldiers, he believes in discipline. He steps in to put the right way ahead of the easy way. I am a romantic and loved the way that Ming Yueh could understand Venn’s humanity, even though she ‘knew’ he was a brute from the west, just by recognising a physical gesture that was familiar to her.

Graeme: It was very cleverly constructed as a story.

Maureen: I like a moral in a story – this one for me has this.

The Book Group meets at The Mainstreet Trading Company in St Boswells. Its next meeting is on January 12 and members are reading Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory. For more information about joining the group, contact Rosamund on