The Sorcerer's Conspectus:

A comprehensive view of Andre Norton's Witch World

by Lotsawatts

Year of the Unicorn

 1st Novel in the [Witch World: High Hallack Series] by Andre Norton

year of the unicorn 1965 f 357 

See Also: [Martinez ~ Glossary] [Martinez ~ Races] [Schlobin ~ Survey] [Coulson's Index]

[Expanded Reading Order] [Bibliography Page] [Read it Here[Return to Contents]


Edition Used for Analysis:

(1965) Published by ACE, PB, # F-357, $0.40, 224pg ~ cover by Jack Gaughan 


This is the most complicated Norton story, so far. Many years ago, Gillan a member of the Old Race of Estcarp was captured as a young girl by the Alizon forces who were waging war across the sea. Rescued by the Dalesmen of High Hallack , she grew up and was schooled the by the dames of Norstead Abby. Meanwhile, to defeat the Alizonders, the lords of The Dales made a pact with the Were Riders, a group of formidable fighters from the area known as The Waste. In return for the destruction of the forces of Alizon, The Dales would send 13 maidens to the Were Pack as brides. Gillan feels compelled to take the place of one of the chosen women. She has no idea about her background, but soon learns that she has "second sight" powers to see through some illusions. The Were Riders were, in truth, from another world and were trying to get back to the gate to go home. The brides were paired with Riders through a choosing of ensorceled cloaks. Gillan chose Herell, the least respected of the Pack. There ensued dissension in the ranks and all sorts of sabotage and skuldugery aimed against the couple. All the trials and tribulations, sorcery and malignant forces that Gillan must face to fulfill her destiny make one wonder if Andre didn't like Gillan. The book starts out fairly slow, but picks up to a break-neck pace in the final chapters. I had forgotten how good it is. Personally, I prefer the other continent, but this one has its good points.

Timeline Points:

  1. p2. Gillan came to Norstead eight years ago with Lady Freeza. She had been brought to the Dales aboard an Alizon vessel, though she is of the Old Race. Why she was brought is unknown, since the master of the ship had been killed by a mast and no one else knew why she was brought. "This was during the time of raids when the lords of High Hallack, fighting to free their homeland from the Hounds of Alizon, swept down and struck a lightning blow at the port through which came the invaders' lifeblood of supplies and men. And so I was swept up with those supplies and taken to one of the mountain holds." This would probably mean she was taken by the Dalesfolk sometime in the Year of the Leopard, since The Crystal Gryphon mentions that was when the Dales had their first, small successes against the Hounds.
  2. p8. Year of the Gryphon - Lords make covenant with Were-Riders. (This event is explored in more detail in Gryphon in Glory)
  3. p8. War continued through Year of the Fire Drake and that of the Hornet until Alizon was utterly broken & downcast. (This event is described in more detail in The Toads of Grimmerdale)
  4. p9. Year of the Unicorn - the Great Bargain is to be upheld.
  5. p10.Thirteen brides are asked for, "they must be maids, not widows, or those who had chosen to live beyond customs bonds. And they must not be younger than eighteen years of age, nor beyond twenty."
  6. p45. Gillan believes she is some twenty years of age.
  7. p57-58? Gillan: "But the men of High Hallack say that always since they have pushed into this country have they known the Riders—" Herrel: "The years of man and our years are not one and the same."
  8. p175? Herrel explains to Gillan "It is laid upon us that our true nature is revealed and we are drawn to flames which dance from wood as old as we. A thousand dale years—even so long a span of time would not suffice to hold a Were from answer if you found a tree of his age."


Sorcerer's Notes:
Dragon Scale Silver places another, unnamed year between the Year of the Leopard and the Year of the Gryphon but this doesn't interfere with Joisan's age as it states in The Crystal Gryphon that her birthday is during "harvest time" and Gryphon's Eyrie takes place in spring/summer of the Year of the Unicorn. Joisan would turn 22 in the autumn of the Year of the Unicorn with this timeline.

Gillan's Age

Year Name


Gillan born some 20 years before Year of the Unicorn


Year of the Leopard

Gillan rescued from Hounds


Year of the Gryphon

Covenant with Were-Riders


Year of the Fire Drake


Year of the Hornet

Alizon invasion defeated


Year of the Unicorn

The Great Bargain - On the first day of the Year, 13 maids, between 18-20 yrs old, are sent by Lord Imgry to edge of The Waste as the Were-Riders’ brides. The Were-Riders return to Arvon.

The Sorcerer’s recommend that you read next: Changeling

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Formatted and Edited by Jay Watts ~ May, 2022

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