Friday night I finished reading Enchantment by Orson Scott Card — and I was caught between the pleasure of having read such a great book and the sadness of finally coming to the end of the adventure.
The plot summary you can find on Amazon, but basically Enchantment is a modernized and Russianized retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It has everything — folklore, magic, religion, time travel, wit, buffoonery, romance, drama, and poignancy. This was my first time reading any of Card’s novels, and I can see why he has become such a big name in sci-fi and fantasy.
For anyone who — like me — loves folklore, especially Russian folklore, this book is a real treat. Card did his homework and was extremely creative, for example in his explanation of why Baba Yaga’s house is said to walk on chicken legs. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s priceless!
The time-travel back into medieval times was also well-crafted and believable, although I’m in no position to say whether the depictions of ninth-century Ukraine or even post-Soviet Ukraine are accurate or not. In the acknowledgements at the end of the novel you can see how many people he turned to for help with the research. (I think I’d like to read his Alvin Maker series next, since I’ve heard that also incorporates folklore, though American rather than Russian.)
Another aspect that I admired about this novel, beyond the obvious research that went into it, was the authenticity of the characters. The characterization wasn’t overdone as it can be in some novels (ahem, mine?) that are trying too hard to impress and come up with quirky characters. These characters were simple and believable, and you couldn’t help but like each one, even the annoying feminist scholar Ruth and the Ur-Wicked Witch Baba Yaga. As despicable and scandalously evil an archvillain as she was (I mean Baba Yaga, not Ruth), she was so interesting and even cartoonishly humorous that I couldn’t help but like her even a little bit. The only character I can say I really didn’t like was Dimitri, the top knight of the druzhina, but he was at least human.
Add to that a tight plot structure and pacing — I never got bored, ever — and you have an excellent and entertaining book that I would highly recommend to both regular fantasy readers and readers who normally scoff at genre.