Piers Anthony – A Spell for Chameleon
Length: 344 pages
Started: 14 January 2010
Finished: 16 January 2010
Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s SantaThing (last year – shame!).
Why do I have it? My secret santa picked it for me.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 December 2009.
In a land where all
things have their own magic, Bink
is feeling left out.
Summary: Xanth is a land where everything is magic. Plants, animals, even the rocks and lakes are full of magic. And the people: everyone in Xanth has a magical talent… everyone, that is, except for Bink. Bink must discover what his talent is – if he even has one – or risk exile from Xanth forever. With that in mind, he sets out to seek the Good Magician Humphrey, to ask about his talent. But in a land where everything is full of magic, no journey is without its perils, and Bink will learn more than he ever expected – not only about himself, but also about the country he’s so desperate to call home.
Review: I read this entire book with a sense of disconnect that came from never being quite sure what age the target audience was supposed to be. In some parts it read like prose in a mid-grade novel (Knock it off! with the over-exclamated! internal monologues already!), but in other parts the vocabulary and denseness of the prose were something I’d expect from an adult novel. The main character is 25, which generally argues for a similarly-aged audience, but he’s a pretty immature 25, and the action-adventure style of the plot suggests that it should skew younger. Bink spends a *lot* of time thinking about women and sex (more about that later), but what’s on-screen is pretty tame, with nothing that would be even mildly inappropriate for older teens. In general, I felt like the book’s themes and ideas were geared towards adult readers, but that its plot and writing were geared towards the younger, leaving the result stuck in a weirdly uncomfortable middle ground.
…And speaking of weirdly uncomfortable, let’s talk about the gender relations in this book. “Sexist” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Bink is constantly musing about women, and relationships, and how he wants both an attractive girl and a girl with a brain in her head, but how he can’t possibly trust a woman who is both beautiful AND smart, and how if he had an ordinary girl, he’d get bored, so what he really wants is all women, all the time, etc., etc.
“She was not so ugly as to turn him off, and not so lovely as to excite his distrust after his experiences with Sabrina and the Sorceress Iris – what was the matter with beautiful women, that they could not be constant? – but also not so stupid as to make it pointless.” –p. 245
After a while – and it comes up at least every ten pages or so – it just felt gross and chauvinistic and adolescent, especially coming from a character that’s supposed to be 25. Maybe it’s a product of its times – it is over thirty years old, after all – so maybe it’s coming from a time when authors assumed that no one other than adolescent boys read fantasy novels? Still, read in the modern age? (And by a non-adolescent woman?) It’s pretty off-putting.
However, despite the weird age issues and the sexism, this novel did have a lot of good things going for it. It’s a light, imaginative, and fast-moving fantasy adventure, and even though some aspects of it are pretty predictable (I’d more-or-less figured out what Bink’s magic was by page 65), there’s enough going on that I was never in any danger of getting bored. I appreciated that the magic had internally-consistent rules, and that the discovery of those rules formed an underlying current throughout the book. I also appreciated that amidst all of the action, the book did try to deal with some deeper ideas about honor and trust and loyalty, even if it didn’t always do it in a particularly subtle way. Overall, it was a fun enough read, although I think I probably would have liked it more if I’d read it fifteen years ago. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I probably won’t go looking for the sequels, but wouldn’t turn them down if they dropped into my lap, either. Probably best for teen boys, nostalgic re-readers, or those interested in reading the classics of the fantasy genre.
Other Reviews: My Random Acts of Reading
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First Line: A small lizard perched on a brown stone.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 177: “Bink wasn’t sure why a girl of her appearance should affect such modesty; surely no one would gawk at her exposed flesh regardless of its rondure.” – a graceful curving or roundness.
- p. 339: “That is its nature; it must be a private thing. To reveal it is to vitiate it.” – to impair or weaken the effectiveness of.
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