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Enchantment (thoughts)

May 8, 2008

Once Upon a TimeI read this over a month ago, as my first Once Upon a Time Challenge read. And look: the challenge is over halfway over and this is my first review. Whoops! (In my defense, I have another OUaT review waiting in the drafts folder until I get up the courage to disagree with most of the blogosphere.) And now I’m writing with the Bookworms Carnival in mind. So this review is probably different from what I would have written right after I finished, but sometimes it might be good for things to percolate for awhile!

I bookmooched Enchantment awhile ago, because Orson Scott Card is one of Chris’favourite authors, and Chris has wonderful taste. So I bothered Chris into giving me a list of good Card books that aren’t sci-fi, and when I read that Enchantment is retelling of Sleeping Beauty (one of my favourite fairy tales) and it’s got a big Eastern Europe influence (one of my favourite places), I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist.

What Chris didn’t know, is that if he had told me it also involved time travel and the Middle Ages (two of my other favourite things), I would have read the book the very next day. But that’s ok, because when I finally did get to it, I got to be surprised! While young Ivan (in case you’re curious, the ‘authentic’ way to pronounce that is Ee-VAHN, with the emphasis on the second syllable, and I think it’s much nicer sounding!) is staying with some cousins in Ukraine (his parents try to get exit visas to leave the Soviet Union for the US), he stumbles across a mysterious meadow that haunts him for years afterward. Meanwhile, his father’s enjoyment of old Slavic languages transfers to Ivan, who ends up going to grad school and studying, among others, Old Church Slavonic. By the time he’s ready to his PhD, the Soviet Union has disintegrated, so he goes back to Ukraine for his dissertation research.

And that’s when the story really starts! He goes back to the meadow and ends up waking a sleeping princess, Katerina, who then takes him back to her land, which turns out to be a journey through time instead of space. There’s the old witch Baba Yaga (BAH-bah yi-GAH, if you want to be authentic), who I was glad to see from all of my Russian fairy tale readings (children’s lit is great for learning a foreign language!), and Card makes her a deliciously evil villain. There’s also a bear god, and some other gods, and it’s all a ton of fun. The reason I’d consider this urban fantasy is because it’s the ‘normal’ world, just with magic grafted on top. What I found interesting about this book, compared to other urban fantasy, is that much if it actually historical urban fantasy! In Katerina’s time, not only is Baba Yaga a very powerful witch, but there’s magic in the blood of royalty. And normal people accept all of this as a matter of course: one of the book’s subthemes is Christianity vs. paganism, and in the pagan mindset most of the villagers still have, there isn’t anything unbelievable about Katerina being saved by her aunts’ magic from Baba Yaga’s death spell by having to sleep until a man comes and kisses her. The book also goes back to Ivan’s time, though, and it turns out there’s still magic in the present, that’s been passed down since pagan times from mother to daughter or aunt to niece. And it still works, although power on the scale of Baba Yaga’s is unheard of. In the present day, it’s more like charms than anything! The other aspect that makes this urban fantasy is the presence of gods in everyday life, just going about their business. I can’t talk about it too much, because it’d give away one of the story’s surprises, but it’s rather like how Gaiman treats gods in American Gods or Anansi Boys, which I thought was neat! (They’re not the centerpiece of the story, though, like in those two Gaiman books; here they’re just a sideline) All of these aspects made the book one I really enjoyed.

In the interests of honesty, however, a few things bothered me. First, Ivan speaks Katerina’s language because he studied Old Church Slavonic (and Scott is careful to add that Ivan and his father only spoke Old Church Slavonic for an entire year for fun). While I’ll accept that, in interests of the story, as the book progresses the way Ivan talks (supposedly in Old Church Slavonic) becomes pretty modern, which sometimes snapped me out of the story. Then, there’s Katerina’s name. Now, Scott obviously did research on Russian names for the book, since he gets the nicknames right. But in Russian, the name is Ekaterina, and the nickname is Katya. I knew a bunch of Katyas when I studied abroad, an Ekterina (professor) but never one Katerina. I think it especially bothered me, because Scott did everything else right, lol. But if you’re not a student of Eastern European languages, it shouldn’t bother you. I also found myself rolling my eyes at parts when Card’s obvious personal beliefs intruded upon the characters’ thoughts and dialogue…they felt a bit fake and tended to simplify complex issues (“No, Father. You don’t have faith in a rational universe. This is a unverse where nothing can move faster than the utterly arbitrary speed of 186,000 miles per second, where feathers and rocks fall at the same speed in a vacuum, where a measurable but unexplainable force called gravity binds people to planets and planets to stars, and where a butterfly’s wing in China might cause a hurrican in the Caribbean. But you have faith in all this incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo which you don’t beginto understand, solely because the priest of the establish church of intellectuals have declared these to be immutable laws and you, being a faithful supplicant at their altar, don’t even think to question them.” Now, I don’t blindly accept everything science says, but I wouldn’t call the scientific method mumbo-jumbo.). And the last thing: the final chapter. It wraps things up in a cutesy-cutesy way, and while part of me enjoyed it, another part was having sugar overload.

Ok, so now that my nit-picking is out of the way, I truly urge everyone who enjoys fairy tales to go read this one! Scott reimagines the story in a complex and interesting way, and his plot never slows down. And it’s full of Old Country magic! Thanks to Chris for recommending this to me. :D

Favourite Passages
He came upon it in the midst of a forest so old that there was little underbrush-the canopy of leaves overhead was so dense that it was perpetually dusk at ground level, and nothing but a few hardy grasses and vines could thrive. So it felt as if you could see forever between the tree trunks, until finally enough trunks blocked the way or it grew dark and murky enough that you could no longer see. The ground was carpeted with leaves so thick that it made the forest floor almost like a trampoline.In vino veritas.”

Only when he was belted into his seat and the plane pulled back from the gate did it occur to him why he felt so free. Coming to America, all the burden of his parents’ hopes and dreams had been put onto his shoulders. Now he was heading back to Russia, where he had not had such burdens, or at least had not been aware of them. Russian might have been a place of repression for most people, but for him, as a child, it was a place of freedom, as America had never been.

In this moment, Ivan loved these people and this place. Not the way Katerina loved them, because she knew each one and all their stories from childhood on; Ivan loved them as a whole, as a group, as a community.

Katerina could hardly bring herself to eat supper that night. Not that she wasn’t hungry-she was. But they had come so close to dying. The food here was already strange. None of it looked like anything. Everything was flavored with something else, so nothing tasted like itself. She hadn’t really had much of an appetite since she left Sophia’s house.

“I cast a spell of Truth on the house,” said Esther. “It’s very simply, really. It makes people willing to act according to what they believe. To say what’s in their hearts, regardless of shame. It doesn’t change what they feel, what they want. It just helps…loosen them up.”
“You needed magic for that? Wine has been around for centuries.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2008 4:43 pm

    Susan (thesis director/mentor/buddy) recommended this to me a while back, and I’ve never gotten around to it. Great review, as always, and you’ve reminded me to mooch it myself!

  2. May 8, 2008 4:44 pm

    Do it!! Post that dissenting review! Rage against the machine, and so forth! Let there be disagreement and intelligent discussion!!!

    Oh, I’m so excited.

    Also, Enchanted looks great.

  3. May 8, 2008 4:51 pm

    Andi, thanks! I hope you enjoy it. :)

    Raych, lol-I totally will post the dissenting review very soon. There isn’t a lot of rage involved in it though…what makes me quite concerned is that the author knows about book bloggers. And I don’t like hurting people’s feelings! Anyway, I’m probably making too much fuss about it: you’ll judge for yourself soon. :)

  4. May 8, 2008 5:01 pm

    Great post! It really seems like a good book and I must try it! It’s kind of embarassing to admit that I have trouble with time travel stories because of all the paradox issues. But I love a good villain so on to the wishlist it goes!

  5. May 8, 2008 5:25 pm

    This sounds like a really interesting book! And don’t worry about being behind on the OUAT challenge, I haven’t posted any links on the challenge blog yet. (mainly because I can’t get Mr. Linky to work for some reason). So you’re not alone!

  6. May 8, 2008 5:47 pm

    I’m gonna throw out a guess and think that maybe you didn’t like The Goose Girl…Am I right? Of course, I just posted a review about it, but love to hear why people don’t like a book that I’ve enjoyed. It makes for interesting blog reading! :)

  7. May 8, 2008 6:06 pm

    Jaimie, thanks! I don’t think it’s embarassing at all that you have issues with time travel: look at my issues with Katerina’s name, lol. Baba Yaga is definitely a good villain. :D

    Kim L, that’s weird that Mr. Linky doesn’t work for you!

    Stephanie, you are right. :) But I didn’t dislike it, I just didn’t love it, lol. Now I see that I might have to go ahead and post that review tomorrow, rather than keep talking about it in comments!

  8. May 8, 2008 8:16 pm

    Sleeping Beauty…magic…time travel…Ukraine. Ok, I’m checking it out tomorrow as soon as I get in to work!

  9. May 9, 2008 12:53 am

    Great review as always, Eva!

    “I also found myself rolling my eyes at parts when Card’s obvious personal beliefs intruded upon the characters’ thoughts and dialogue…they felt a bit fake and tended to simplify complex issues.” This annoyed me a bit as well, but like in your case it wasn’t enough to get in the way of my enjoyment of the book.

    And I’m with Stephanie…bring on that Goose Girl post! Your posts are always so thoughtful and well articulated…I’m sure that I’ll find your review interesting even if I disagree with it.

  10. May 9, 2008 4:04 am

    Wonderful review, Eva. This is one of those books that despite the fact that most people seem to love, I’m not sure I will, so I’ve kind of been avoiding it. Which of course, has been easy to do with so many other bazillions of book on the TBR pile.

    I can’t wait to read your review of The Goose Girl! I’m one of those who positively loved it, but wasn’t nearly as thrilled with Enna Burning (and I really seem to be in the minority on that one).

  11. May 9, 2008 10:07 am

    I read this book a long time ago and remember feeling dissatisfied or unsettled by it, but even after reading your review, I can’t quite remember why! Maybe I should revisit it just to see.

  12. May 10, 2008 7:05 am

    I didn’t read CATCHER IN THE RYE in high school, either, and it’s now been well over twenty years since I’ve read any Salinger. I think I need to revisit him.

  13. May 10, 2008 7:24 am

    I have not idea how my comment for your Salinger post ended up here, but oh well…

    Anyway, Sleeping Beauty? Time travel? The Middle Ages? I never thought I wanted to read Orson Scott Card, but maybe it’s time I changed my mind.

  14. May 10, 2008 6:13 pm

    Melanie, I thought you might like this one!

    Nymeth, I’m glad you agree re: Card’s lecture stuff. :)

    Debi, thank you! I didn’t love it (four stars, instead of five), but I definitely enjoyed it. :D

    Jeane, I wonder why too!

    Emily, I never wanted to read Card either, but Chris was so insistent! I don’t think he’ll ever be a favourite author, but this one was definitely fun!

  15. Myrthe permalink
    May 11, 2008 3:46 am

    I am glad I am not the only one who gets annoyed when a writer (or in my case it might have been the translator) doesn’t get Russian names right. :-)

    I had the same problem recently when I read a novel set in Russia and none of the family names of the female main characters had the female ending that they should have had. A tiny thing, I know, but it bugged me to no end throughout the book!

  16. May 12, 2008 2:57 pm

    Myrthe, that’s so weird!! You mean on the surname? Very frustrating indeed. I mean, you’d think an author would do some research before setting a story somewhere.

  17. May 12, 2008 7:46 pm

    Enchantment is on my list to read – my 888 challenge – now you’ve made me wonder if I can find a way to sneak it in more quickly! thanks for the great review, Eva.

  18. May 18, 2008 11:23 am

    Wow, I learned mroe about this book from your review than I could have imagined. That just adds to my enjoyment. I thought it was a beautifully fun book to read.


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