Fantastic Reviews - Fantasy Book Review
Enchantment book cover

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

Del Rey fantasy - copyright 1999
387 pages

Book read in July 1999

Rating: 7/10  (Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

          Enchantment is Orson Scott Card's take on the tale of Sleeping Beauty.  At the age of ten, visiting a relative in the Carpathian Mountains, Ivan Smetski sees a woman deep in the forest lying on a pedestal, surrounded by a lake of leaves and guarded by a creature hidden within the leaves.  Soon after, his family emigrates to America, and Ivan tries to convince himself the woman was a schoolboy fantasy.  Years later, Ivan is a graduate student studying Slavic languages and engaged to marry Ruth Meyer.  Returning to Russia for his studies, Ivan is drawn back to the enchanted forest.  Naturally, he defeats the woman's guardian and awakens her with a kiss.  She leads him across a magic bridge to her home in the Ninth Century.

This is where the story begins to defy our expectations.  The sleeping beauty, Princess Katerina, believes that she must wed Ivan - the wedding is necessary to protect her people from the plans of the evil sorceress Baba Yaga - but she and her people have nothing but contempt for him.  They perceive him as physically weak and socially inept.  Ivan is quite taken with Katerina, but is in no hurry to marry her, when he has a fiancée waiting for him a thousand years in the future.  He contemplates returning home, while Katerina tries to convince him to stay and help her people, even though they seem universally to despise him.

For three-fourths of the book, I found this compelling reading.  I was completely enthralled by the romance between Ivan and Katerina.  Coming from such a limited cultural background, it is easy to see how Katerina could be a good, intelligent person yet still contemptuous of Ivan at the outset (although I can't believe a modern decathlete would be an obvious weakling in the Ninth Century).  I enjoyed watching the two of them inevitably grow close.  Most of the other characters are also strong, although I'm not sure Card really has the knack for writing Jewish characters (but Ivan's mother does get in a couple good Yiddish-sounding lines).  Baba Yaga is appropriately wicked and menacing, but it's also easy to appreciate her spunkiness - to some extent she's just a woman ahead of her time, trying to make it in a man's world.

The one mistake I though Card made was failing to develop Ruth more fully.  She needed to be a more complete and likable character for Ivan's conflict in choosing between her and Katerina to seem agonizing.  The reader should feel sympathy for Ruth, an innocent woman whose life is disrupted by the bizarre intervention of witches and fairy princesses, and should share her horror when her efforts to hold onto Ivan play into the hands of Baba Yaga.

          Once the romance story played out, the rest of the book was a bit anticlimactic.  The action scenes, including the final confrontation with Baba Yaga, were uninspired.  I think that's because the real focus of the novel was the romance story, and I'm hard pressed to think of a better romance in the SF/Fantasy genre.
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Copyright © 1999 Aaron Hughes

More Orson Scott Card book reviews on Fantastic Reviews:
Ender's Shadow
Shadow Puppets
Shadow of the Giant
Ender in Exile

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Links to other Orson Scott Card related webpages:
Hatrack River - The Official Web Site of Orson Scott Card
The Ornery American - - Card's political web site
The SF Site Featured Review Enchantment
Rambles review: Orson Scott Card, Enchantment
Curled up With a Good Book: Enchantment -- book review

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