The fifth book in a series detailing world famous archaeologist Indiana Jones' young adult years, Unicorn's Legacy will be a very familiar read to those who have read any of the previous books in the series. While most of the other books have made some attempt to advance his character, whether it was giving him a wife, showing him work his way through college, or establishing his connection to Marcus Brody, this book feels very much like a disposable one off episode. While that isn't a mark against it by default, the adventure doesn't differ much from previous escapades in the series, featuring Indy bumbling and stumbling his way through another group of power hungry bad guys in a series of bland set pieces. New characters are introduced, but they don't seem to have any staying power, and this has all the makings of a book you can safely skip even if you have been reading the series.
This time around, Indy's adventure is prefaced by an attempted murder in the ancient caves of France. Indy is on a dig site and one of his fellow archaeologists decide to try to kill Indy and his most recent love interest in order to claim the location for himself. In true pulp fashion, the villain is defeated seemingly permanently, only to resurface years later when Indy is preparing to meet up with this love interest in the deserts of the Southwest U.S. Paired with an Italian revolutionary, he seeks to stop Indy and company from making off with the Unicorn's Horn, yet another mystic artifact rumored to give incredible powers to those who wield it.
The premise is solid enough, but the series once again suffers from bad pacing. It isn't quite as bad as the last book where the big appearance of Noah's Ark ends up lasting 15-20 pages, but once again the book drags on and on for most of the first two hundred pages. Indy spends an awful lot of time talking to people and contemplating things, getting captured and experiencing hallucinations. Then the setting shifts to Italy and we breeze through the finale and many climactic events with very little context and with a total lack of imagination. Once again, it feels like the closing events of the book were rushed out just to meet a deadline, and even a few amusing scenes like Indy disguising himself as an old man can't save the rushed and unsatisfying conclusion to this dull story.
Like in the third book, Indy spends quite a bit of time reading the journals of another man to learn about this episode's mysterious item. Instead of a famous archaeologist from the early 1900's, this time we jump into the perspective of a late 1700's Englishman and his experience with the Unicorn's Horn. These parts quickly begin to feel like filler however, taking up pages at a time telling us something that we basically already knew (the Unicorn brings terrible luck to all who possess it) just taking an excruciatingly long time to say it. The idea of Indy connecting with the past is actually a pretty good one that should be utilized more often, but not if all it is going to be used for is to pad the book's meager page count.
After five books in this series, I guess it shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but once again I find myself astonished at just how incapable Indy seems to be written here. Like in every book in the series to date, Indy frequently finds himself captured and at someone else's mercy, only to barely escape certain death via some combination of extraordinary luck and equally inept antagonists. Granted, the movies featured Indy escaping many death traps, and in fact that was one of their many attractions, but he didn't stumble into and out of them with the kind of clueless carelessness that he exhibits in these books. An Indiana Jones that is more Mr. Magoo than heroic archaeologist is a tough sell for me, and the now consistent lack of imagination that goes into these action scenes is making it very difficult to trudge through this series.
Luckily Indy is characterized a bit better in personality than in ability. He still has a fairly solid wit, and maintains his rugged demeanor in the face of adversity. There are a few amusing character moments where he replies with a bit of biting sarcasm to a particularly annoying character or says something clever after narrowly escaping death, but for the most part this is a workmanlike and unspectacular performance for our protagonist. Jazz musician and series mainstay Jack Shannon shows up once again, a lazy re-tread in a book full of them, and the character now seems to have been squeezed for everything he can give to this series. Indy's longtime mentor Brody actually makes a pretty substantial appearance towards the end of the book, helping Indy in a more direct fashion than he is accustomed to and positioning himself as the only noteworthy character among the rest of the cast. The villains and love interest are both the very definition of stock, and the more eccentric guidance characters don't add much either, with their progression being fairly predictable and totally standard.
Unicorn's Legacy continues yet another strange tradition of this series: the mystical hallucinatory mumbo-jumbo that has been nearly as constant as Indy getting captured. This time, Indy gets high on tea and thinks he is a bird flying around the southwest. Like in previous installments, these segments don't add much, are over written pretty badly, and feel jarringly out of place in the Indiana Jones universe.
To his credit, author Rob MacGregor does do a pretty nice job with the setting, one of the few things that has been consistently good throughout the series. The shift to the American Southwest calls to mind a few of Indy's previous adventures, including those in The Last Crusade and the opening level of Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. MacGregor does forge his own path here, crafting a mythology centered around the Native American peoples of the area and giving us a nice taste of the Southwest circa the late 1920s. Much like the game Red Dead Redemption, this is a west stuck somewhere between the lawless cowboy days and the encroachment of more modern, urbanized trappings. A trip to Italy later in the book manages to capture in a very succinct manner the essentials of that country in that time. For all of MacGregor's flaws, like the mind numbingly repetitive action scenes, and more dull elements like nearly everything else, he is clearly a very well read and traveled man because he almost never fails to pinpoint the essence of a place in time.
This series of tie in books has been sputtering along for three novels now, with each one giving us more and more of the same without breaking the formula in any way. Despite being under three hundred pages, Unicorn's Legacy is likely to take longer than usual to read because it is simply that dry and unimaginative. Luckily, a new author takes over after the next book, so hopefully the transition will mark a return to the types of things that make Indiana Jones such a resonant character. As for this book- avoid at all costs.