I am a softie for fairy tales and retellings. Is it any wonder I couldn’t resist “Enchantment” by Orson Scott Card? This novel is a retelling or expanding of the story of Baba Yaga, a Russian fairy tale. We begin by learning about Itzak/Vanya/Ivan Smetski and his early years in Russia, then Kiev (Ukraine) and eventually America, when still a young boy. Before Ivan’s family move to America, he and his parents stay a while with Cousin Marek near Kiev, where Ivan enjoys running through the forest. He is only around 10 years old when he happens upon a clearing where he imagines fairy tales might take place. Much to his surprise, the leaves start churning and a pedestal is revealed in the center of the clearing with a beautiful girl asleep on a bed. He is mesmerized by her, perhaps even in love already. The rapidly churning leaves and appearance of some sort of being underneath them scares him and he runs away. And thus plants the seed for his own real life fairy tale. Later in American, Ivan’s graduate study on the earliest beginnings of fairy tales leads him back to Russia and Kiev, and eventually back to the same magical clearing and the sleeping woman, where he soon finds out for sure what is under the churning leaves as he becomes the hero and saves the sleeping princess.
Quote: “He had done what he came to do – he cleared away the leaves, defeated the beast, crossed the chasm, woke the princess. That was as far as the stories ever went. None of the stories included shivering naked between forest and pit, the princess scorning you as a peasant…”
This is where the story really takes off. Ivan and the princess, Katarina travel between both her land and his as they try to outwit and outrun the evil witch, Baba Yaga and save her kingdom. Orson Scott Card does a wonderful job of describing the emotion and conflicts of being in a place where the customs and expectations are different as they jump between centuries. Belief systems and traditions are miles apart. I really enjoyed watching Ivan and Katarina, work through the conflicts created by having to learn and adapt to the different social environments. It was one of the highlights to see them work through their emotions and challenges. Another highlight was to read about a love story that isn’t love at first sight and doesn’t turn around on a dime for a happy ending. Ivan and Katarina struggle through real, honest, feelings as their relationship develops. I loved that it wasn’t smooth and easy.
Most of the characters are very likeable and strong. Though the stereotypical fairy tale characters are present, (hero, princess, anti-hero, villain, sidekick, and shunned woman) they are not truly stereotypical because the character development is deep enough to make them individuals you are interested in. The plot keeps moving along and never gets old or boring or predictable with a few clever twists and turns. The villain, Baba Yaga, is definitely a villain and lives up to the name. She is a little nasty and by that I mean there is a trend for some of her dialog and topic of conversation to be a little on the sexual side and the language a little coarse (swear words). It bothered me a little. Definitely adult topics and language.
I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to other adults. Because of the adult topics and language in some parts of the book, I would not recommend this to young readers. It was entertaining and really fun to read about a fairy tale you don’t hear referred too much at all.