109 of 116 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2000
I am probably the only sci-fi/fantasy reader in the United States who read "Enchantment" as her introduction to Orson Scott Card's fiction. As unbelievable as it may sound, I avoided reading every OSC book, despite the fact that my sister and best friend did everything but read "Ender's Game" to me. You see, "EG" was once a class assignment (I chose to read Dickens' "David Copperfield" instead -- talk about your opposite book!), and after that, I refused to read it more out of obstinance than anything else. But I'm glad I read "Enchantment."
Coming right off the heels of Robin McKinley's "Spindle's End," I wasn't sure "Enchantment" would be different enough to hold my attention. I was, fortunately, wrong! The best part about this book, aside from complete characters, effortless narration, and a compelling plot -- no small asides! -- was the fact that it had much more to do with what happened AFTER Ivan kissed and awoke the princess. We learned about her village, ancient Slavic culture and religion, magic (both ancient and modern) and the inner workings of an enchanted princess.
Card handled 8 viewpoints with ease, though of course the dominant ones were Ivan, Princess Katerina, and the witch, Baba Yaga. As I am completely unfamiliar with Russian culture and folklore, I found OSC's version of Baba Yaga a completely hideous and believable villain; I was glad to get her viewpoint throughout the story. I also appreciated OSC's depiction of modern and ancient Russia, which to me are now familiar in my head. He conveys incredible amounts of information in few words, and the plot never lags; though this is a long book, it is a quick read. We also feel like we get to know the characters right away, and he writes with equal believability about women and men (I guess it helps to have a wife who proofreads your work :-) ).
If you ever wanted to read an excellent story, get to know many interesting characters, and find out what happened after Sleeping Beauty woke up, read "Enchantment"!
46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2000
I'm a tough critic, and I don't throw around sentences like "this is the best work of fantasy I've read in a year" without giving the matter some thought. But this is a really superb story. I cannot see where it could have been done better, and I don't say that often.
It's superb because it is told vigorously and plausibly. Assume for a few hours that gods and magic have been real, and that there can be magic bridges across time, and the actions of the characters make perfect sense. They are all intelligent problem-solvers - not only Ivan and his parents and Princess Katarina, but the witch-queen Baba Yaga and her captive Bear-god. At no point does Card feel the need to make a leading character into a dunce or a lunatic to shove the plot along.
Card also avoids many pitfalls which you might be afraid that he fell into, given the subject matter and the fact that he really succumbed to some of them in the "Alvin Maker" series. For example, he does not bog the story down in discussing contemporary post-Soviet politics, or in the fine points of culture and technology in tenth-century Ukraine, nor in determining who the real heroes and villains were in Eastern Europe then, nor does he clutter the volume with every Russian folk tale element ever recorded. Nor, although this book does elaborate on the "Sleeping Beauty" story, is it merely a self-conscious "retelling" of the kind that we fantasy readers have come to dread, often in connection with Arthurian legend. The present and the past are nicely balanced and interwoven, and the center of attention throughout is on the story rather than on its setting and provenance.
Furthermore, he manages to throw in a few surprising plot twists, which is difficult to do in a story like this, considering that you mostly expect that the hero and heroine are not going to get killed by Baba Yaga and it's mainly a question of how they will win. Nothing here is trite. Furthermore Card avoids the temptation to explain "everything" at the end or to develop a textbook on the laws of magic. He recognizes that some things have to be explained, but other things just work because that's how they work in fairy tales, and he draws the line between the two sets of things quite well.
You know how you know that a book has really worked? After you are done with the book - you find that you aren't really done with it. You leaf back through it and re-read some of the nicely done parts and recapture how you felt at the first read-through. Then you put it on your shelf along with your other favorite books, where you can pick it up in a few months or a year and read it again. Not all that much stuff by Card has made it onto that shelf of mine, but this one has.
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
When I first picked up this book, I expected it to be yet another one of those "modern Jewish person goes back in time to experience some aspect of Jewish history" trips. (Why is it that SF writers always have to send the Jews back into the past? Don't they think we will have a future?) Yes, there is an aspect of that here, but it's much, much more. The focus is not so much on JEWISH history as it is on RUSSIAN history, although Jewishness does play an important part.
The year is 1975, the place is Soviet Russia. Young Ivan "Vanya" Smetski finds out he is Jewish when his father decides to claim his Jewish heritage in order to emigrate to Israel and then, hopefully, to the United States. Politically, it is a time when America is putting pressure on the USSR to release more Soviet Jews, but the Soviets react the other way and clamp down on letting Russian Jews leave. The result is that Ivan's father loses his university position, the Smetskis lose their apartment, and the family ends up living with a cousin named Marek on a little farm near Kiev. At this point, little Vanya is 10 years old.
One day, while out in the woods by the farm, Vanya discovers a clearing with a strange round pit full of leaves. Something is moving in the pit -- a monster? The leaves rustle away and he thinks he sees a woman's face rising up among the leaves. He runs away in terror, but never forgets that place, although he thinks of it as some sort of nightmare or hallucination.
Years later, the Smetskis are living in America, and Vanya, now calling himself "Ivan" with the English pronunciation, is working on his Ph.D. thesis about ancient Russian fairy tales. He returns to the part of Russia where he grew up (now part of the Ukrainian Republic) and eventually finds that same clearing in the forest. There is indeed a woman asleep on a pedestal in the middle of the pit -- and a huge enchanted bear is guarding her. Sleeping Beauty is real... Only it's not quite "happily ever after." After kissing the princess, he must agree to marry her in order to get past the bear -- or be killed by it. He proposes and she accepts. He then follows her over a magical bridge into 10th-century Russia -- and into a major a culture shock. Suddenly he is in a barbaric world where literacy and scholarship count for next to nothing, and he is considered a useless weakling because he cannot wield a sword or battle axe. From then on, the real adventure begins...
The book is a convincing mix of realism and magical fantasy that is based on serious historical research, but one thing did bother me in the beginning of the book. There is a rather strange scene where, after Professor Smetski decides to be openly Jewish, he has a mohel (ritual circumciser) come to the house to circumcise him and 10-year-old Ivan. Now, I do know that most Russiam Jews of that era were not circumcised because the Soviet government forbade it. I also know that, after emigration from Russia, many such Jews did have themselves circumcised as an affirtmation of their Jewishness. But I have not heard that they were doing it in a home operation in Russia. For adults, this operation is painful and dangerous and usually requires an overnight stay in the hospital. Plus, it was ILLEGAL in the Soviet Union and regarded as "practicing medicine without a license." So nu, would a mohel risk imprisonment to do it like that? I'm not saying is NEVER happened, but I found the focus on circumcision somewhat disconcerting. Ivan's circumcision does play a part in the plot, however, so it could be taken as a literary device.
The use of Russian fairy tales was interesting and believable. I was already familiar with the stories of Baba Yaga the wicked witch, but I did not know of the significance of the Bear in Russian folklore until I read this book. The story is taking place right at the time when Christianity is first reaching the area, and the people have not really given up their pagan beliefs. Magic still works because people believe in it, and the evil powers of Baba Yaga are very, very real. But so are the powers for good -- and they are not always coming from the Christian side, either. There's even a Jewish "good witch" who helps defeat Baba Yaga -- but more than that would be a spoiler.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2000
If the "happily ever after" at the end of fairy tales never left you completely satisfied, then this is the book for you. In "Enchantment", Orson Scott Card takes you beyond the "happily ever after" of the traditional story of Sleeping Beauty. The first few chapters introduce Ivan, a brilliant Russian graduate student living in America, and preparing to write a dissertation about Russian fairy tales. Just when Card's realism had me convinced that this could be a true story, Ivan stumbles across the sleeping princess Katerina, and awakes her with his kiss. But don't think that Card is just borrowing a fairy tale, because the end of the traditional story of Sleeping Beauty is merely the beginning of Card's tale! Ivan quickly discovers that kissing a princess doesn't result in living happily ever after, as he travels back in time to Katerina's world, and becomes involved with her in an epic struggle to defend the kingdom of her father over against the wannabe ruler, the witch Baba Yaga. In the course of this struggle, Ivan and Katerina travel to worlds past and present. This leads to some delightfully cultural comedy, where ninth century Russians get to use gunpowder and molotov cocktails and also have the rare privilege of seeing a 747 jumbo jet enter their world well ahead of its time. Card's story-telling is superb, and his fantastic blend of reality and magic, past and present, is wonderfully entertaining. There is constant suspense, romance, adventure and humour.
But as usual, Card does much more than just tell a good story. His special attention to inner thoughts and struggles and the psychology of human relationships is masterful. In the course of telling his fairy tale, he shares numerous philosophical thoughts about literary theory, psychology, and religion. The clash between cultures achieves more than just comedy, but provides deep insights about the chasm between times, cultures, and religions (especially Judaism and Christianity - both of which are somewhat unfairly portrayed as mere outward rituals entered upon by circumcision or baptism). Card demonstrates that it is possible for two very different individuals from different times and cultures to make a new beginning together in a marriage, although this meeting of cultures cannot occur without both gaining and losing something at the same time.
Especially thought provoking is the fact that Card uses a fairy tale to show that reality is not like the high fantasy of fairy tales, because in the real world that there is no such thing as living happily ever. Is Card satirizing the impossibly high ideals of beauty and happiness that fairy tales normally offer? I quickly found myself laughing at Card's harsh fantasy world, because it was one I recognized: the real world, my world, which in reality is often cold and harsh. We quickly discover that kissing a beautiful princess in the real world is not all it is made out to be. So we can identify with Ivan the naked prince - his shock at the harsh reality of a fairy tale come true (p.90) is our shock at the harsh reality of life.
Perhaps to heighten the effect of a fairy tale that reflects reality rather than fantasy, Card frequently resorts to crude language, and sexually explicit details. Also the portrayal of the witch Baba Yaga and her sidekick Bear was at times unnecessarily morbid. It is undeniable that this contributes to the effect of bringing the fantasy to cold hard earth, but personally I found it unnecessary to go so far in order to create the effect he wanted, and from Card (a Mormon) rather surprising and unexpected. I find it a shame that by employing such language and giving attention to such crude details, Card has made this book suitable only for mature and discerning readers, and made it inappropriate even for older children.
Card also uses the culture contrast between modernity and myth, past and present to criticize contemporary culture. Are Card's comments about the lack of respect for authority and the change in roles between husbands and wives (p.206) an implicit criticism of Western society? And is Ivan a mouthpiece for Card when he makes the observation that contemporary culture focuses on having itself remembered, whereas past culture focuses more on surviving (p.139)? And is the disappointing and harsh fantasy world that first promised so much intended to be a mirror image of life in the USA, which Ivan's Russian immigrant family also found disappointing (p.144)?
These and more questions will amuse you for hours. "Enchantment" is certainly a wonderful marriage of fantasy and reality, past and present, magic and science, pleasure and philosophy. The crude details do leave a bit of a bad aftertaste, but like Ivan and Katerina's marriage, this marriage of modernity and myth in the end proves to be most successful and satisfying
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2000
Once again, Orson Scott Card has done a masterful job of making fantastical situations seem realistic -- even the relationship between the malevolent witch, Baba Yaga, and her kidnapped Bear-god husband. This is a well written story of clashing cultures, modern and ancient, as well as clashing spiritualities: Christian, Jewish, Pagan. The novel is respectful of them all. It's also a romance with a happy ending that bridges both worlds. And contrary to what one reviewer wrote, Bruce Cockburn (whose lyrics are quoted in the novel) IS cool!
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2000
I purchased this book in hardcover at a book signing and since have recommended to approximately 25 friends and relations. The reasons for the high recommendation are apparent in the first chapter. Card has an unparalleled ability to pen 3-dimensional characters with just a few words of conversation. While this book is ostensibly a modern reworking of Sleeping Beauty, Katarina, the princess, is no idealized archetype and Ivan is the most unlikely of heroes, though a thoroughly modern man. The warp of 20th century values and the woof of mythology create a wholly original yet still romantic tapestry for the author's exploration of such weighty topics as one's "place" in society and how one defines one's self-worth.
Like most of Card's books this can be read on several different comprehension levels and it is equally enjoyable on all.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2002
In my love-hate relationship with Orson Scott Card's work, this is a definite high point. Here, Card abdicates his frequent role as second-rate moralist, content to be a first-rate storyteller. The result shines.
The simplest description of this book is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty with a modern-day grad student magically transported back in time to play protagonist. This is factually correct, but does the book no justice. The Sleeping Beauty tale only instigates the action, and while Card keeps brilliantly true to the feel of the fairy tale, the story is really about what happens during "happily ever after."
The book's appeal lies in Card doing what Card does best. He draws appealing, compelling characters -- the opening character sketch of the protagonist Ivan's childhood in the Soviet Union would justify finishing a far lesser novel. He shows clashes between cultures, Christian vs. pagan, medieval vs. modern, without taking sides. Through it all, he saves himself from the trap of being unforgivably sentimental by filling the book with potent, witty humor. A series of scenes where Baga Yaga, magically transported to the present day, tries to cope with modern life, is particularly classic.
There isn't a lot of deep meaning to be had in this book, but it doesn't aspire to have much. It is simply a enjoyable, compelling story, not in any frivolous sense, but in a very beautiful one.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2001
There are few dreamers of daydreams alive and writing about them well today. For those of us who ever did glance off in class or thrill at the mention of a bedtime story, "Enchantment" just might fail to put yourself effectively asleep. The story of Ivan, a man who jogs everywhere in an effort to find something purposefully aimful, and Katerina, the self-aware and talented princess waiting to satisfy an aim, keeps the reader turning each page just to hear their always amusing and wry commentary on the often clever problems that arise from the book's 400 or so pages. The two are bound inexplicably by the laws of fairytale magic to help each other overcome the perils of black curses, time travel conundrums, a bad decision to wear a hoose, a jilted neurotic fiance and ultimately the unexpectedly comedic duo of a ... bear god and the hilariously evil witch that binds him to her to save the kingdom of Taina.
So many threads and themes are woven together, but it really is no wonder a good writer like Card did not lose himself in the muck. (After all, this IS the writer of "Ender's Game." *cue cheers from the crowd*) You don't have to read the acknowledgements to see the legions of fascinating cultural and folktale details that flesh out the book's world. Characters of fantasy speak like they were auditioning for a TV show lines. Powerful beings dwell in ordinary places. Jewish, Christian and more ancient religions clash (and will certainly offend the easily offended). It is a book that does much to revive that something somewhere inside of you that wishes magic were real.
Nevertheless, Card lessens this incantation a tad by giving most of his creations that smarmy, modern fantasy character logic that they all like to work out in brilliant detail for the reader to understand. Even as Card mocks crazed feminists, the modern language of Oprah and Seven Habits of Highly Effectual People merge with psychological insight most wish they could muster. The effect is like it always is today: character's who lose some of the freedom of interpretation and who are not carved with the graceful, mysterious lines a true literary master would give them. To give Card credit, at least he does not make them as irritatingly dense as Jordan, Goodkind and many others are wont to do on a quest for round, three dimensional characters.
Certainly, while it does not rise out of the most of the genre's weakness, "Enchantment" does not fall to half of their worst devices either. Plot threads unravel evenly, not to suddenly stack odds back and forth in order to trick the reader into thinking great shifts happen. Slow, deliberate developments actually develop! Enough pages are taken to slow down to intelligence's pace, but even more admirable, to speed up for the sake of the plot! While I would have loved to know what happened to Terrel, it wasn't necessary, and it is where many others would have devoted 50 pages to an ancillary character in a bruised need to feel "epic." Card understands the craft better to conjure a sometimes suspenseful, often hilarious, every now and then educational, but always unfailingly modern charm on anyone who reads the story. The denouement was particularly sweet, as few these days of never-ending fantasy are.
Original enough to surprise even fantasy fans, but lacking real power outside the well-told yarn, you could certainly weave much worse magic spells than the riveting "Enchantment" out of a book store.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2002
Not a typical Card book, but then, what exactly is a "typical Card book"?
It starts with a beautiful portrayal of a Jewish Boy growing up in Russia, moves to some gritty "it-sounded-good-in-theory" fantasy, which in turns alternates with fairy-tale fantasy. The fairy-tales are appropriately Russian, and along the way the truth behind many classical Russian folklore stories is revealed.
Yes, it's as funny as it sounds.
Add to that great Orson Card characters, and the strength his moral believes often lend to his books, and you get what would have been considered a masterpiece if written by anyone else. I haven't read his biblical series, but it compares well to his terrific "Hart's Hope" fantasy, blows his horror books out of the water, and is at least on par with his SF.
I can't believe no one noticed this book, maybe because it's mostly fantasy. Highly recommended, even to those who think they only like Card for his SF.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 1999
Over the years, Orson Scott Card has given the world many powefull tales, stories of honor, of people doing great deeds and changing their worlds because of it.
This is not one of them.
That does not mean it is any less worth reading, however.
The book tells a classic fairy tale, the story of the Sleeping Beauty, in a way that it just might have actually happened. I won't go into the details of the plot here, however, since I'm sure the reader can find those elsewhere with ease.
What I will say, however, is that Card has found what it is that keeps these stories alive for so long. It is not the adventure that brings us back, or the tales of magic and wizardry.
It is love. From start to finish, this is a love story and nothing else, though it may not seem that way at first. This novel demonstrates that love, no matter what age it is in, endures, and will find a way for itself.
Enchantment also makes the reader realize not that fairy tales do happen, but that there is no difference between fairy tales and what we obstinately call reality.
From cover to cover, Enchantment tells the reader that life really is one big story, a fairy tale that never ends.