Everyone needs to read The Last Unicorn. I don't know if everyone will love it, but everyone needs to read it. If you are trying to decide whether or not to read this book, don't read my review. Just go out, get the book, and read it.
I will give you the quote that's on the front cover of my edition:
"The Last Unicorn is the best book I have ever read. You need to read it. If you've already read it, you need to read it again." -Patrick Rothfuss
My review is much less of a review and more of an ode to the love I have for this book. I am so sincere and certain in my love for The Last Unicorn that I will only be able to oversell it, and expectations will be higher than the actual novel* for anyone who reads it after. Just read it and decide what you think; I don't know if it's for everyone but everyone should read this book at least once, just try it, it isn't very hard or very long. Whatever you think of it, good or bad, it's worth reading. Just stop reading thsi review and go read it.
As for my thoughts...
I like a lot of books. I am eager to like everything I read, and I'll try to see the good in anything I read even if I really hated it. So I wonder now and then if I'm still capable of recognizing truly good books. Then a book like The Last Unicorn comes along, and I realize, oh yes, this is what a Good Book is.
Some books are the kind of good you can read through in two days and not want to put down. Some are the kind of good you want to last for 900 pages and have twelve books in the series. The Last Unicorn is, strangely, neither of those to me. It's that strange, elusive kind of good, when I can only read a chapter a night because that one chapter feels like a whole book in itself. It's the kind that is the exact perfect length, exact right amount of story, to tell exactly what it needs to. The only other book I've read in the same vein of amazing storytelling, where each page is a treasure of information and I savored every moment, is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. You should go read that one as well.
Even the first pages of The Last Unicorn were enchanting. I have never read another book written so quaintly, in such an elegant, fairy-tale manner, and still be so rewarding and relevant. Peter S. Beagle is an excellent writer and also a master storyteller. It's something a lot of authors lack, for better or worse, these days.
Something I liked very much was that each and every character had this beautiful selfishness about them. They was probably the most complex and yet most simple motives of any characters I've ever read. And not always a bad kind of selfish: the selfishness of love, of trying to "find yourself," of just not knowing anyone but your own person for years and years. It felt very realistic.
I also liked how much the characters changed through the story. Everyone was so dynamic. I think the selfish motives, combined with a stark honesty about everything they thought and did, let us into their hearts and minds so thoroughly that it was easy (and, more importantly, believable) to see every change of mind and switch of sides they went through, however brief or permanent. As a person who tries to put my own heart into everything I read, I fell in love with every character because of that. I know most people are less hopelessly romantic than I am, so your mileage may vary. But I was hopelessly hooked.
Haggard himself was especially fascinating. I think he may be one of the most perfect villains, certainly one of my favorites. Here are the only spoilers I'll write in this review. They are quite mild and don't directly reveal anything, but if you haven't read the book you still shouldn't read further (and you should be reading it right now anyway, how dare you have read the review this far after my warning?). [Spoilers ahead]
Haggard's intentions and actions were selfish (see above) and awful, and many people suffered because of him. He seemed almost to want to wallow in his unhappiness and dreariness if it at all made his prize more worthwhile to him, which I am sure it did. And that made him a villain, but his motivations were so very pure. All he wanted was to feel, to have that moment of true and thorough joy. I cannot possibly deny that feeling to anyone, and so I sympathized with that old sad king by the sea, because imagine how awful a life without an ounce of happiness would be. What he did was more understandable, maybe even justifiable (though I am by no means excusing him) than the plight of any other villain I've yet read about. He could easily be the antihero of his own story.
Of course there are a great many other themes and conflicts in The Last Unicorn. Every encounter the main characters have has some sort of lesson to be taught or story to be told, and yet it is never a simple one. Often it shines a light on the true nature of humans and beauty, the worth and effects of immortality, love's hold on the heart and mind, and other things equally undecideable, and usually it is up for the reader to find the answers. The characters themselves are either in direct opposition to the others' ideas or change their stance on the subject, leaving much wide open for you to ponder.
It's a very pleasing and stimulating read, not just for children though they will still enjoy it. Not likely understand it all (or, understand it completely, depending on your views of the nature of children).
That all probably sounded silly and revoltingly poetic. All I know is that I needed to write it out somehow, transcribe my feelings about this book as romantic as they are, in the hope that someone might decide to read or re-read what is one of my favorite books of all time. So GO READ IT RIGHT NOW I don't care if you have to break in to your nearest book store and steal a copy (don't do that) just read it. If you haven't read it already, no cookie for you, I told you not to read this far. Make it up to me by reading The Last Unicorn.
(You might want to try watching the movie of The Last Unicorn as well. It's not Pixar quality animation but the voice acting is superb, the style is magical, and it preserves the heart of the novel in its (slightly simplified but still true) retelling. Actually, if you have seen the movie first I will daresay you will get the special enjoyment of reading the book in the voices of the animated characters, like I did, and it's quite rewarding.)
*I say "oversell" as if Peter S. Beagle's book isn't really as amazing or beautiful as I say, but if you are like me and are very willing to love these fairy tale stories and you can see beauty in near everything, you will surely like it as much as I did