What if unicorns were real — and deadly?

by |April 29, 2022
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A.F. Steadman grew up in the Kent countryside, getting lost in fantasy worlds and scribbling stories in notebooks. Before focusing on writing, she worked in law, until she realised that there wasn’t nearly enough magic involved. Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is her debut novel.

Today, A.F. Steadman is on the blog to tell us about why she decided to write a book for children about deadly unicorns. Read on …

A.F. Steadman

A.F. Steadman

Why I made unicorns deadly

When I had the idea for Skandar and the Unicorn Thief eight years ago, I wasn’t consciously thinking about rejecting the idea of fluffy, rainbow-fuelled unicorns. I was simply walking home, and an image of a boy and a unicorn flying ahead of me soared into my mind. I’m a visual writer and often play out scenes in my imagination, and I remember very clearly thinking: This unicorn doesn’t look like it belongs in a fairy tale. This creature belongs in nightmares. If I’m going to be completely honest, I suppose I have always been a little suspicious of the friendly image of unicorns that is prevalent in modern times. Especially as they have a sharp horn – a deadly weapon! – right on their heads. So when I came back to the story years later, a ferocious unicorn and its daring rider were where I started. And I began to build on the idea of unicorns being different from the sparkly toys I was so used to seeing in the shops.

I started with the Mainland first, which is where Skandar Smith – the main character – is from. I wanted the Mainland to feel like our world with three fundamental differences: unicorns are real, they are deadly, and they live on an Island off the coast. I wanted this discovery to be quite new – just over a decade before Skandar’s story starts – so characters still remembered a time when unicorns were mythical and had a reputation as cute companions. One of the passages that I wrote into the very first draft describes this turning point – the moment when the Mainlanders realised that their perception of unicorns was completely wrong…

“Dad said they’d all been terrified by the idea that the wild beasts might fly in a shadowy swarm to the Mainland and kill anything in their path – with teeth or hooves or horn. In their fear, people had purged their homes of unicorns – picture books, soft toys, key rings, party decorations – and piled them on to towering bonfires that raged in public parks.”

Luckily, in Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, unicorns can be tamed by the rider who hatches them. And by the time Skandar – a boy who is young enough never to have imagined unicorns as mythical and fluffy– turns thirteen, he is desperate to become a unicorn rider and bond with his own destined unicorn. It might be dangerous, but he wants the honour of racing a unicorn, he wants to share in its elemental magic, he wants to be one of the heroic riders he watches in the Chaos Cup every year – a unicorn race famous across the world.

And so, in their preparation for the Hatchery exam – the test that determines whether or not a thirteen-year-old is destined for a unicorn – children Skandar’s age snigger at the artefacts from the time before. How could anyone have possibly believed that unicorns belonged in fairy tales? And when you compare the noble, elemental beasts Skandar has seen on his television for his whole life, fluffy unicorns do seem rather impossible …

“She’d passed around examples of unicorn artefacts in their first Hatchery class: a pink unicorn soft toy with curly eyelashes and a smiley face, a sparkly headband with a silver horn, and a glittery birthday card that said ‘always be yourself – unless you can be a unicorn, then always be a unicorn.”

But although Skandar is determined to become a unicorn rider, fate intervenes when the most powerful unicorn in the world is stolen. And although bonded unicorns don’t attack their own riders, unicorns that hatch wild only have one thing on their minds. Destruction.

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A.F. Steadman (Simon & Schuster Australia) is out now.

Skandar and the Unicorn Thiefby A.F. Steadman

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief

Book 1

by A.F. Steadman

Unicorns don’t belong in fairy tales; they belong in nightmares. So begins Skandar and the Unicorn Thief. Soar into a world where unicorns are real – and they’re deadly. They can only be tamed by the rider who hatches them.

Thirteen-year-old Skandar Smith has only ever wanted to be a unicorn rider, and the time has finally come for him to take his Hatchery Exam, which will determine whether he is destined to hatch a unicorn egg. But when Skandar is stopped...

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