Indiana Jones and the Unicorn’s Legacy

I’m back with another of my explorations of the “Indyverse,” where I look at the many lesser-known books, comics, games, etc. that are connected to one of my favorite fictional heroes, Indiana Jones. Today I’ll have a look at Book #5, Indiana Jones and the Unicorn’s Legacy.

So far these books have followed one another chronologically, covering Indy’s early adventures in the first years of his professional career in archaeology. The first several in this series were written by Rob MacGregor, who, as I finally realized, views Indiana Jones more through the lens of historical fiction, rather than as connected to the pulp action genre, which is where the character got its start (among the many inspirations for Lucas and Spielberg were the Republic serials of the 40s, comics and dime novels of their youth, and the 1954 Charlton Heston movie Secret of the Incas).

MacGregor’s Indy novels haven’t been very heavy on the action sequences, though each one become more action-packed than the previous—at least, until this one.

After a brief historical scene set in the 1700s, the novel opens with a flashback to one of Indy’s earlier grad school digs in 1924, this one at a French cave with Paleolithic drawings. The expedition is led by a lab instructor named Roland Wolcott, and like happened in a previous book, Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils, Indy manages to find something significant but the expedition leader tries to take full credit.

With him is fellow grad student Mara Rogers, whose specialty is art history. During this scene, Indy first sees references to unicorns, but this all comes full circle later when, five years later, Mara comes dramatically back into his life while Indy is doing some field research on the Anasazi in the American Southwest. She’s on the run from Wolcott, who is working with some dangerous Italian villain, tasked with stealing a unicorn’s horn (called an “alicorn”) from her.

An Anasazi Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde, site of many scenes in Indiana Jones and the Unicorn’s Legacy

Indy’s best friend from college, Jack Shannon, comes to help, as do a couple of other new characters, including a mysterious Native American mystic named Aguila. This man’s name (“Eagle,” in Spanish) references a spirit animal motif that has subtly lurked in these books from the beginning, with the eagle being representative of Indy’s soul (every chapter in these books begins with a heraldic standard of an eagle carrying a sword and sheaf over an ocean sunrise).

Most of the book is comprised of these various characters moving about the desert of southwest Colorado, usually running from bad guys, looking for each other, or both. After a while the chapters start to blur and we crave for something to happen. Of MacGregor’s books so far, this one is the most dull. A shame, because an actual unicorn’s horn would make a great McGuffin, and the sun-baked desert and the mysterious silent edifices of the abandoned cliff dwellings would make a great Indiana Jones setting. But in the end, not much happens, outside of a few fist fights and some car pursuits. The ending relies on mind-altering effects, something MacGregor also used in The Seven Veils, a cliché that lets him write about some astonishing visions while keeping the reader (through Indy’s POV) unsure what is real.

Canon or Not?

This follows so close behind the others so far in this series, and doesn’t do anything to break that, outside of being a bit of a dull read, so I’ll go ahead and consider it canon.

Read It or Skip It?

If you’ve read the first four, this is the first one where I advise some caution. Read it only if you like MacGregor’s sense for historical details, don’t mind a dearth of page-turning action, and want to follow Indy closer to the end of the 1920s. But if you’re short on time or attention, skip it.

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