Reviewed by Steven H Silver
While Orson Scott Card is best known for his Hugo- and Nebula-Award winning "Ender's Game" series and the "Tales of Alvin Maker," he has also written several fantasy novels such as Songmaster, Hart's Hope and Wyrms. Card has now returned to that pure form of fantasy with a fairy-tale retold in the novel Enchantment. Enchantment has all the originality and fancy of those early novels told with the skill Card has acquired over twenty years of professional SF publishing.
Enchantment is a complex blend of traditional fairy tale motifs, beginning with a version of "Sleeping Beauty." Card places his comatose princess in the Ukrainian woods where she is found in the mid 1970s by ten-year-old Ivan Smetski, just as his parents are given permission to emigrate to Israel. Ivan returns in the 1990s as a Ph.D. student researching his dissertation in Folklore and is again drawn to the glade where this vision, which has haunted him since he left the Soviet Union, began. At this point, Card introduces a wide variety of Ukrainian, Russian, and Jewish folktales, blending their disparate threads into a intricate, but seemless story.
The action is split between tenth century Taina, a small kingdom which is threatened by the witch Baba Yaga, and the twentieth century, where Ivan is trying to complete his Ph.D. The ninth century scenes are reminiscent of L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall, although Ivan's skills and knowledge of folkore are far less useful than Martin Padway's were in de Camp's novel. The twentieth century scenes are reminiscent of another de Camp novel, The Goblin Tower, as Katarina, the Tainan princess, attempts to adjust to the strange new world Ivan has brought her to.
One of Card's strengths in Enchantment is not the deft characterization or the flowing plot, although those are both notable, but his ability to portray the cultures of early Christian Ukraine and late-twentieth century society so differently while understanding (and showing the reader) how ingrained their beliefs are. Things which seem silly to Katarina are extremely serious offenses to Ivan and vice versa.
While Katarina and Ivan are the most completely portrayed characters in Enchantment, Card doesn't ignore his supporting cast. Ivan's mother and Cousin Marek are both well drawn, if enigmatic characters who manage to draw the reader's interest. Baba Yaga, while remaining true to her folkloric roots, acquires depth frequently missing from fairy tale villains.
While Enchantment takes advantage of all of the skills Card has shown in his recent novels (Xenocide, Pastwatch, Heartfire or Homebody), the ideas and story presented in Enchantment is among the freshest and most original idea Card has presented in several years. Outside of his various series, Enchantment provides a brief glimpse into a world much like our own where magic, both malevolent and beneficient, works whether a person believes in it or not.
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