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The Limits of Enchantment
Graham Joyce
Victor Gollancz, 250 pages

The Limits of Enchantment
Graham Joyce
Graham Joyce was born in 1954 in Coventry, England. He attended Bishop Lonsdale College (B.Ed. with honours), graduating in 1977, and the University of Leicester for an M.A. in 1980. He worked for the National Association of Youth Clubs in Leicester as a youth officer until 1988. The same year, he married Suzanne Johnson, a lawyer.

Graham Joyce Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Facts Of Life
SF Site Review: The Facts Of Life
SF Site Review: Smoking Poppy
SF Site Review: The Tooth Fairy
SF Site Review: The Tooth Fairy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sandy Auden

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Opening a Graham Joyce novel is like slipping into a warm bubble bath. His lyrical style lulls you gently into the story and the real world dissolves away as you're assimilated into the author's imagination.

In this latest novel, Joyce has re-created the heady days of the 60s, in all its mini-skirted, grass-smoking glory. Fern has lived a protected life with her mother, learning about herbs and helping the local population with natural remedies and tinctures. When Mammy falls ill and is taken into hospital, Fern has to face the realities of living on her own for the first time in twenty-one years. With no reliable income and affected by the prejudices of the close community around her, Fern finds herself up against the local gentry who have alternative plans for her cottage, and in trouble with the local police for her associations with her drug-dealing neighbours. In desperation, she turns to the spiritual beliefs she grew up with but it turns out to be a dangerous path to follow...

Joyce has produced his usual smooth uncluttered prose in a story that, like many of his novels, nestles out on the edges of the supernatural genre. The Limits of Enchantment is a different take on witchcraft and herb lore to his earlier story, Dark Sister, but there are similar underlying themes to be found, like dealing with the spirit world on an everyday basis, as part of normal life.

Both stories display the same attention to detail and most of the herbal technicalities are very close to reality. Add in a delightful cast of characters with all their faults and foibles and a perfect sense timing with the story pace, and The Limits of Enchantment shapes up into a hugely enjoyable experience. Unlike Dark Sister though, The Limits of Enchantment is fundamentally a story of transformation from naïveté to experienced as Fern is forced to broaden her horizons and take her place in the changes regaling the 60s world around her.

It's a 60s world with a suitable hippy atmosphere but it doesn't overwhelm the story at all. The primary focus of the story is the people living in the 60s and not the era itself, so the background culture is revealed in glimpses, only where it touches the character's lives: through fashion and the news; television programmes and their broader attitudes to life.

Yet strangely, for a Joyce novel, the characters in The Limits of Enchantment didn't linger after the last page. His earlier stories like Indigo and The Facts of Life had remarkable staying power. Maybe it's because the underlying themes are familiar to Joyce readers already; or maybe it's because there are many more stories about witchcraft and herb lore around these days (Sarah Micklem's Firethorn being a good current example) and as a result, Joyce's impact is being diluted by the rest of the market.

Linger or not though, The Limits of Enchantment is an entertaining story and there are times when the book is glued to your eyeballs and you're laughing along with it easily. It may be less overtly genre than many of the other herb lore books around, but you'll find Joyce's books are always well-crafted, always thoughtful, and always fundamentally enjoyable.

Copyright © 2005 Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for The Third Alternative and Interzone magazines and a combination of all the above for The Alien Online. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.


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