10.09.2013

Currently Reading: Enchantment

Enchantment“Are you so clumsy that no one gave you any work to do?” asked the king. “Look at your arms and shoulders—I don’t know if you could lift a basket of flowers.”

“I lifted the stone that blinded the bear,” said Ivan, getting a little annoyed.

Katerina looked concerned. “My father is teasing you,” she said.

Ways of showing humor must have changed a lot over the centuries, then. It sounded to Ivan like he was being insulting.

“In my land,” said Ivan, “I’m regarded as a…” He had no idea how to say athlete in Old Church Slavonic. It wasn’t a concept likely to be useful in the liturgy or histories. “As a good runner.”

The king’s face went white. “They say this to your face? That you run?”

Ivan had to think frantically to guess at what he had said wrong. Then it dawned on him. “Not running from battle,” he said. “Running races. Two men side by side, then they run and run and see who arrives first.”

“We have slaves carry our messages,” said the king.

“Then I suppose no one but the slaves will run races with me,” Ivan said, chuckling. But he found himself chuckling alone. So much for humorous banter. Apparently the jokes would go only one way around here.

“I’ll bet you’re not Christian, either,” said the king.

Author: Orson Scott Card

Synopsis: While visiting family in the Ukraine, Russian-American graduate student Ivan returns to a place that haunted him as a child: a clearing in a forest, where a beautiful princess sleeps beneath fallen leaves, guarded by a bear. A kiss awakes the princess, Katerina, upon which Ivan finds himself betrothing himself to her in order to save them from the bear and the witch Baba Yaga.

The first of many problems with that betrothal is that Ivan is engaged to another woman back in America. But as he follows Katerina into her world, a thousand years into the past, he faces more immediate difficulties: her disdain and that of her people, his own physical ineptitude for battle, and the complication of having a scientific mind when pitted in a life-or-death struggle against raw and malevolent magic.

Notes: This story is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale in the context of the Baba Yaga mythos, and therefore stakes at least a dual claim on the interest of any fairy tale fan. It's well done; Russian language, folklore, superstition and political situation are portrayed with Card’s characteristic humanity, as are the respective immersions of the chronologically challenged young couple into each other’s cultures. The latter is notably hard to pull off—a young academic with an American standard of living plunged into a culture that values men for physical strength, a Dark Ages princess faced with airplanes and modern noise—but Card makes it believable.

Like all Card’s best works, the narrative is lined with subtle but powerful insights, some stated in his characters’ words, some in their deeds. There’s quite a lot about sex; this isn’t a children’s fairy tale retelling. It's handled with gentleness and decency, however, along with a beauty rarely found in modern treatment. It’s also handled with an eye to redemption, as are the dealings with Christianity and Judaism and the old Russian gods.

It’s a good story, and I dropped a lot of things I was supposed to be doing in order to find out how it ended as quickly as possible. I might still prefer Card’s sci-fi, which has a long-lasting hold on my imagination, but it seems his fantasy is also worth reading.

15 comments:

  1. This sounds *amazing* and may be the first non-academic book I pick up, after I get past one more series of work-related deadlines, in several years (if you'd believe it's been that long since I've read bona fide Story--ugh). I'm especially intrigued by the old Russian folklore stuff (esp. since I know there will be ties to Russian Orthodoxy, if not in theology then definitely in culture and ethos...the mention of old church Slavonic in the excerpt already points to this). Thanks so much for this mini-review!

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    1. it's been that long since I've read bona fide Story--ugh

      Ouch!! That's exhausting...

      I'm trying to remember if Katerina's day is set before or after the East-West Schism--I read it several weeks ago--but yeah, you'll find some ties. It's set not long after Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and I believe they're mentioned in there. :) And there's definitely lots of cool Russian folklore and culture talk. I hope you get a chance to read it--or bona fide Story, at least--soon!

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    2. Exciting update! I went on a business trip last week that took me across the country and back (actually I was near your neck of the woods, relatively speaking: Seattle :) ), which meant lots of plane time in which to read *whatevere*I*wanted*. I read completely through Divergent on my 2 plane rides there (I liked it; will read the rest of the series eventually for sure). And on the way back? I made a dent in Enchantment, and am now about halfway through it. It is incredibly rich in detail and beauty in a way Divergent couldn't be (what with its fast pace and dystopian angle), which means it's lingering in my psyche in lovely ways. One sign that it is good in all the right ways is the fact that I am plowing through a few chaoters each night just after Bookie falls asleep -- something generally unheard of when sleep is so scarce with a baby-turned-toddler. Feels very good to be reading Story (finally!) again. Thank you again for this recommendation!

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    3. Yay!!! I'm so glad you're getting some time to read and enjoying the books!

      I love the detail in Enchantment myself--it's one of my favorite things about the story.

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  2. What an interesting-sounding book! Right now I've got a pile of library books to finish before my ability to renew them runs out, but I'll have to make a mental note of this one for later.

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    1. Ooh, do I ever know how THAT goes!

      It's a good book. :)

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  3. You know, I have still not read anything by Card. But if I did, I might start with this book.

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    1. All my raving, and you STILL haven't picked up Card?? ;)

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  4. Wow..I want to read this! It sounds fascinating!!! And Donna - have you seen the book Russian Folk Belief by Linda Ivanits??? It's got issues being a little too fond of all saints being very much just renamed gods, but it also has some fantastically well-preserved folktales and attitudes..It totally didn't help me get over my fear of St. Cassian the Unmerciful, which was my hope when I bought it, but it's still one of my favorite references for folk-tales!

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    1. I have not encountered the book Russian Folk Belief yet, Masha, but thank you for the rec! I will look it up once I have some time to delve into this kind of reading (so close...) :)

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    2. I definitely recommend this book for Russian enthusiasts, although I know less about all things Russian than either of you, so if there are incongruities or mistakes, you may find them when I didn't. :)

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  5. Well, I've been about ready to finally read Ender's Game, but I might see if the library has this one first.

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    1. Would love to hear what you think about either or both! Ender's Game is the classic of the Card novels, with very good reason, although I particularly love its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, which is one of my favorite books ever. I feel like someone told me recently that Enchantment was their favorite Card work, though, which is why I finally read it, and I'm definitely glad I did!

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  6. Is this the book you were telling me about today? It sounds so interesting! I wonder if the library has a copy...

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    1. Yes, it is! I got it from our library here, so your library might--or at least, they could do interlibrary loan. If you read it, I'd love to hear what you think!

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