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Bad Unicorn by Platte F. Clark (review)
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Reviewed by
Clark, Platte F. Bad Unicorn. Aladdin, 2013. [432p]. Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4424-5012-7 $15.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4424-5014-1 $9.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 5-8.

Middle-schooler Max Spencer is your garden variety gaming nerd and social outcast, but he also happens to be the only person in the world who can read The Codex of Infinite Knowability. Completely unaware of the book's magical properties, Max reads from it while hanging out with pals one afternoon; this transports them all to a dystopic version of the future where machines have taken over the world and a flesh-eating unicorn has decimated the human population. Meanwhile, back in Max's present-day hometown, the same carnivorous unicorn, Princess the Destroyer, has traveled from another dimension in search of the Codex and joins forces with Max's bully tormentor. Max has to figure out how to use the Codex to defeat the unicorn both in the future and the present (or the present and the past, depending on your perspective), but the book isn't all that helpful: Max never knows from one page turn to the next if he'll be reading about life-saving magical spells or diatribes on the dangers of power-hungry squirrels. This Adam Rex-like combination of fantasy, sci-fi, and middle-school angst is infused with absurd humor and wry social commentary, and it will elicit more than a few chuckles from readers familiar with epic fantasy and pop culture. Clark gently parodies Tolkien and Rowling without antagonism and manages to create a wildly diverting world that features golf-obsessed monks, claustrophobic dwarves, sentient arcade games, and of course, one very bad unicorn. Max and his pals are lovable, if a bit one-note, and the narration capably guides readers through the various jumps in time and space. The ending lays the groundwork for a sequel, so both fans and anti-fans of boy wizards have something to look forward to. [End Page 373]