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Enchantment    by Orson Scott Card order for
by Orson Scott Card
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 1999 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Orson Scott Card is at his best in Enchantment with a marvelous urban fantasy combining elements of Sleeping Beauty and Russian folklore with time travel, technology and a leavening of ironic humor.

In addition to having multiple names (not unusual in Russian literature) our hero, Ivan / Vanya / Itzak has an identity crisis. After he has lived for ten years in Russia as Vanya, his father declares the family to be Jewish and applies for immigration to America. While waiting for an exit visa, they detour to stay with distant relatives in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains.

There Vanya stumbles (literally) on a mysterious forest clearing, filled with a lake of leaves and with a sleeping woman at the center. Something very frightening moves under the leaves and Vanya flees. Years later, Ivan (recently betrothed to Ruth) returns to the Ukraine to conduct folklore research and confront his fear.

He defeats a powerful, magical bear and rescues the ensorcelled princess Katerina - and now the fun begins! First of all, the rescue process requires the couple to become engaged. Given Ivan's prior commitment to Ruth, this creates a moral quandary. Then Ivan and Katerina have to make a choice (her time or his). They end up one thousand years in the past, where he gets to do his research up close and personal. Finally there is the culture shock. To princess Katerina of Taina, our brave hero is a deformed peasant who wears women's clothing and speaks like a stupid child.

They struggle through misunderstandings and danger, visit the future together, find help from an unexpected source, and head back to confront the wicked witch responsible for the original spell. And by the way, it's worth reading the story for Card's interpretation of the Baba Yaga myth alone. He provides a brilliant explanation of Baba Yaga's house (which walks on chicken legs) in modern terms.

Does Vanya ever sort out his identity? Well, he figures out how to live two very different ones, not quite at the same time, but happily ever after with Sleeping Beauty and a pack of kids. And it's nice to finally see a fairy tale in which happy ever after includes children. But we may not have seen the last of Yaga - the plot leaves room for a sequel. This story is a must read for fantasy lovers - Orson Scott Card at his best sure spins an enchanting yarn.

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