Orson Scott Card,
Enchantment
(Del Rey/Ballantine, 1999)

The cover of Enchantment catches the eye first, with a golden yellow leafy background and an inset that appears, at first glance, to be Ophelia by John Everett Millais. Closer examination shows that it is an original painting of a young woman asleep in a sea of leaves. More leaves and butterflies drift through the air above her. If one looks at the woods in the background long enough, one might see a crone's face hidden among the trees.

This is the central image of this engrossing fantasy which straddles worlds and times, exploring and challenging the reality of folk tales. The woman is the Sleeping Beauty, asleep on a pedestal in the middle of a chasm filled with leaves, and Ivan Smetski, the hero of the story, awakens her with a kiss.

The first time he sees the princess, Ivan is a child of 10 exploring the woods near his Cousin Marek's farm where he and his parents are staying on the first leg of their immigration to the United States. He returns years later as a graduate student, kisses and rescues the princess and goes with her into her own country and time -- a land called Taina, 1,000 years in the past.

Ivan realizes quickly that this is not happily ever after. No one thinks he is king material, least of all the Princess Katerina. Still, they continue to make plans for the wedding which is necessary to keep the kingdom of Taina out of the clutches of their dreaded enemy -- the witch, Baba Yaga.

Card draws the reader into the story, weaving past and present, folk tale and history into a witty and well-paced narrative. Readers with a background in folklore, particularly Russian folklore, will especially enjoy seeing how the folk tales mesh with the narrative. The juxtaposition of medieval and modern is striking and original.

The characters are believable and well-rounded. Katerina dispels effectively the notion of the helpless princess, and Card's Baba Yaga is one of the most interesting villainesses to charge onto the pages of a novel. At times, the dialogue becomes a touch too expository, but for the most part, it rings true.

Card's graceful writing and tight suspenseful plot will have readers emerging from the pages at the end as if waking from an enchantment themselves.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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For more about Orson Scott Card, visit his website.