My reviews are written from a writer’s perspective, with an eye to dissecting good novels to find out what makes them work. Although I try to avoid explicitly discussing book endings, I am not as careful about avoiding all spoilers as some reviewers. I find if I employ too much caution about giving away plot twists, I am not able to provide a concrete analysis of the book’s structure. And frankly, I hate vague reviews.
So… there may be spoilers. If that bothers you, read the book first. Then come back and read my analysis and let me know if you agree…or what I missed!
Author: Orson Scott Card
Genre: Historical Fantasy / Urban Fantasy / Time Travel
Read: First Time
Style: Third Person Past
Type: Kindle ebook
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At heart, Enchantment is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty and several Russian fairytales, and yet also so much more. It’s hard to pin down the genre. Fantasy? Absolutely. It’s well-researched enough to be Historical Fantasy (magic that takes place in our own history); involves Time Travel Romance; and also involves magic back in our own time—Urban/Contemporary Fantasy? Orson Scott Card is an excellent seer of the human heart. His romance is not a Genre type, with your usual Alpha Hero, but a realistic (yet fantastic) portrayal of love building a bridge between people from two vastly different cultures.
Ivan is a Russian Jew, whose family is forced to leave the Soviet Union in the last decade of its existence. But before Ivan leaves Russia, he encounters a mystery that haunts him the rest of his life: a beauty asleep in the forest. As an immigrant and later graduate student in America, he dismisses the encounter as the overactive hallucination of a child. He even becomes engaged to a local girl. But fate draws him back to Russia when he returns (post-USSR) to work on his thesis. He visits the same forest … and finds that not only is the sleeping woman there, but she is guarded by a vicious Bear and a magic bridge.
His kisses her awake, but that’s not enough to escape the danger; he must pledge marriage.
She’s been asleep not just a century but a millennia. This is where the story has the first unique twist. How does it happen that Sleeping Beauty has slept both a thousand years and yet not long at all? The answer is that the pedestal where she slept existed outside of time. When Ivan follows her across a bridge, he finds himself back in the dark ages, in a lost kingdom of Slavic Russia. His bride is a princess, and now his role is to help her defend her kingdom against the quintessential witch of all Russian lore—Baba Yaga.
And that’s just the first twist in the story. For the bridge across time works both ways….
Hero /MC: Ivan or “Vanya” a Russian American Jewish graduate student
Heroine: Katerina, princess of Taina
Villainess: Baba Yaba, powerful witch
Bear: A pagan god enslaved by Baba Yaba
Every setting in the book is detailed and alive and convincing, from the late Soviet Union, to suburban America and, especially vivid, the medieval Slavic kingdom of Taina. Card did his research, and it pays off. There’s nothing more aggravating to me (I confess to being a historian) than Time Travel or Historical fiction that is poorly researched. In Card’s hands, I can relax and enjoy the tour of the past, confident that if time travel were possible, this is exactly what I’d see.
The book is quite long, the characters are deep and the setting is rich. This is a stand-alone book that feels lusher and more complex than many trilogies.
Yet the structure of the book is classic and simple. There are 20 chapters exactly, with the first and last chapters acting almost like a Prologue and Epilogue. The first climax occurs in Chapter 4, revealingly labeled, “Kiss.” (And since this is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, we understand from that alone that it is the Kiss, the kiss of true love which awakens the princess.)
Instead of the Kiss ending the story, however, it ends only the First Act. The real story begins at that point, when the Hero enters the Heroine’s world and discovers that he must prove himself without any of the assets that she and her people expect of a man, never mind a knight.
Exactly at the novel’s midpoint, Chapter 10, a huge reversal occurs. The Heroine must now enter the Hero’s world—and finds herself at as much disadvantage as he was in hers. At Chapter 15, the Third Act begins and reaches the climax in Chapter 19.
I’ve been meaning to read this for a long time, and it was well worth it. This re-telling of the fairytale of the Sleeping Beauty is a historical fantasy, urban fantasy, and time travel book rolled into one. It takes place in the Soviet Union, America and the Ukraine after the fall of Communism…and also in Slavic Russia, in the interesting centuries before the Golden Horde or absolute despotisms of the Tsar. This book reminds (or teaches) us that across Europe, democratic traditions actually had deeper roots than feudalism, which came later. The earliest kings were elected by popular acclaim…and the earliest princesses, such as the heroine here, Katerina, were no blushing nincompoops, but strong women who were much a part of the life of their people.
A lot of time travel Romance features a feisty modern heroine with a brawny, hyper-masculine warrior from the past. As Enchantment shows, when the time traveler is a modern man, especially if he’s a graduate student, he looks scrawny, weak, and womanly by ninth-century standards. Yet the hero, Ivan, doesn’t come across to the reader as weak…and one of the delights of the book is seeing the heroine’s initial scorn for him gradually grow into respect and real love.
I learned many Russian fairytales as a child, so I was also quite tickled to see Baba Yaga and other legendary figures from Russian legends featured in the story. The origin of Baba Yaga’s famous chicken-footed house is given a marvelously novel explanation.
Quotes:[Katerina discusses Ivan with her father:]
“But he does have the heart of a king. When he sees someone in need, he does not hesitate to act. He does not measure the cost, he does not fear criticism—”
“But if there’s anything you’ve taught me, Father, it’s that a king must measure the cost! And he must act in a way that is above criticism.”
“I did not say that this Ivan has the mind of a king. Only that he has the heart.”
“What good is the heart without the mind?”
“Better than the mind without the heart,” said Father.
Kindle Locations: 8180
Reading Time: 6 hrs (Standard: 8 hrs)
Other books by Orson Scott Card that I recommend: