What happens after the hero kisses the sleeping princess? It’s far more complicated than “they lived happily ever after,” especially when the hero is from the modern world and knows nothing at all about swinging swords or fighting evil witches!
Enchantment by Orson Scott Card was my second book for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, and it also goes towards my Dusty Bookshelf challenge. Abridged background: I picked it up at a book swap my book club did, I think roughly last summer. I picked it up because, well–Orson Scott Card! At the time I actually hadn’t read anything by him, but I had been hearing about Ender’s Game forever (which I did finally read). I was also intrigued by the plot summary: as a child, Ivan sees a sleeping princess in the forest one day, and runs away. But then years later, he comes back…
That was all that was in the summary, and it turns out to be only the very beginning. It also wasn’t clear until I turned to Page One that Ivan lives in the modern world. He’s from Eastern Europe, though his family emigrates to America when he’s a child. He returns to Ukraine to work on his dissertation on fairy tales, and ends up drawn to a clearing in the woods, where he finds the sleeping princess he had convinced himself he imagined. He fights the bear guarding her and wakes up Katerina, a princess from the 9th century. He ends up back in her time, where the imminent threat of Baba Yaga is just part of his troubles.
I love the concept of this one. It gets at some great questions about the original fairy tales, and points up a fundamental problem usually ignored–the man waking the sleeping princess is not necessarily at all suitable to be king, or to marry the princess! Ivan goes through a lot of trials trying to deal with the society of the time, from his lack of prowess with a sword to disconcertingly different views on nudity. I especially liked it that Ivan goes into this with a scholar’s knowledge–his focus is old fairy tales, so he knows how the stories work, a fair bit about the history, and also what Disney says about it. One of my favorite moments is when he arrives in Katerina’s village and is trying to reconcile what he’s seeing with his historical knowledge, and with Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
I did have some trouble getting into this book. The beginning is spent on Ivan and his life in the modern world; it’s necessary, but it also dragged a little. It picked up when he woke up Katerina. I liked the part in the past (although I think I liked the IDEA a little more than the actual handling of it). The book really got good for me when Ivan and Katerina come back into the modern world (slight spoiler, but it’s only halfway through). Besides how interesting it is to watch Katerina deal with the modern world, there are some fascinating revelations about Ivan’s family and, perhaps most important, the story gets much more focused on the fight with Baba Yaga.
The characters didn’t make a huge impression on me, good or bad. Katerina and Ivan’s relationship was ultimately satisfying, although at times I thought Card was a little heavy-handed about it. They spent much of the book misunderstanding each other, and there was a little too much of “Oh, I thought he meant THIS but what if he meant THAT and in that case maybe I’ll feel THIS way instead of THAT way…” Less explanation and analysis probably would have been preferable.
Despite being a fairy tale, this is definitely an adult book. It’s adult-level writing, and also Baba Yaga has a thing for torture. There isn’t huge detail, but there’s enough.
On the whole, a good book. I liked it. I didn’t love it. I don’t plan to keep it because I don’t see myself as likely to revisit it–but it was good to read once.
Author’s Site: http://hatrack.com