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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Best known for his Ender Quartet and the Tales of Alvin Maker series, Orson Scott Card has produced some of the most popular books in the science fiction/fantasy field over the last decade or so. Remarkably, with Enchantment, Card has carved out new territory for himself as he capably takes his narrative voice and love of research to new heights of charm and satisfaction. Card's particular fusion of magic — usually incorporating folklore, witchcraft, and American history — now breaks new ground with the addition of Judeo-Christian history and Russian fairy tales. He creates a detailed account of Russia's early religious struggle and skillfully carries out this greatly appealing tale of, well, enchantment.
At the age of ten, Ivan Smetski discovers that his once-liberal Jewish parents, who are now attempting to flee Russia, are also embracing their religious heritage. The thought of circumcision, though, sends Ivan running into the woods every day, where he soon finds a sleeping woman on a pedestal encircled by a ring of leaves. Ivan senses that beneath the leaf-strewn meadow rustles a dark power, and he races away in fear for his life. The speed with which he runs foreshadows the fact that he'll eventually become a star athlete. Before long, his parents secure a flight to America and relocate to upstate New York, where Ivan's father, Piotr, is able to pursue his study of ancient Slavic languages and teach at a local college. Eventually, Ivan follows in his father's footsteps and undertakes graduate studies in the same field. His research on the origins of theRussianfairy tale — from which all others may have come — eventually allows him the opportunity to return to Russia. Once there, Ivan finds himself drawn back to his childhood home and decides to find out once and for all if the meadow with the sleeping woman was real or only a dream.
Of course, the beauty is all too real, as is the beast that guards her. Ivan discovers that a moat surrounds the lovely woman, and a furious supernatural bear heaves rocks with enough force to crush skulls, even from a great distance. Eventually, Ivan outwits the beast and awakens the beautiful Princess Katerina, only to discover that once he's crossed the invisible bridge to the pedestal, he's thrust back more than 1,000 years into Russia's history. In order to save Katerina's homeland from the evil witch Baba Yaga, the two must agree to marry. As Ivan struggles to grasp the ancient codes of decorum, he's forced to convert to Christianity and is alternately considered to be a knight, fool, scholar, demon, and possibly the land's next king. Baba Yaga and her husband, the god Bear, set forth schemes to have the Russian people drive Ivan off. If that fails, they will kill him themselves.
While Ivan is lost in time, his mother, Esther, who is something of a mystic, does what she can to draw him back to the present world. Card puts Ivan's mother to brilliant use in a subtle, quiet characterization that works as the perfect modern counterpoint to the long-dead past. Esther's role is both wondrous and understated, and even her brief appearances at the end of several chapters add another layer of profundity to the overall magical quality of the narrative.
In creating Enchantment, Card has done his homework. He gives us an incredibly authentic and thought-provoking tale that spans 1,000 years, yet he also allows the reader the comfort of his familiar dry wit and allusions to current events. Card fuses Judeo-Christian historical references, Russian history, folklore, and myth into so fine a blend that we're never totally sure when one discipline ends and another begins.
Enchantment works on several levels, which is no easy feat even for a writer of Card's caliber. The author is to be commended for all the elements he manages to thread into his story: It's a critical examination of the origins of the fairy tale, a scholarly inquiry into the advancement of an entire religion, as well as an engaging tale of a quest for knowledge, love, and spiritual enlightenment. Card offers us a novel set in an age when religious conversion and the beliefs of old-world worship met in a head-on confrontation, and Ivan's mixed background makes him the perfect medium through which to study the outcome of these issues. Part A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, part ancient fable, and part modern love story, Enchantment is a fulfilling addition to Card's canon of powerful and beloved fantasy-folklore-adventure novels.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of the critically acclaimed supernatural novel Pentacle, as well as the dark suspense mysteries Shards and The Dead Past. His short fiction has appeared in many anthologies, including The Conspiracy Files. His two latest, an exciting mystery called Sorrow's Crown and a horror novel called Hexes, have just been released.