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Piers Anthony – A Spell for Chameleon

January 26, 2011

9. A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony (1977)
Xanth, Book 1

Length: 344 pages
Genre: Fantasy

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.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: My Random Acts of Reading
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

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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14 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2011 10:48 am

    Yeah, I’ve heard weird things about Anthony and the sexism presented in the Xanth novels.

    • January 26, 2011 11:13 am

      Omni – I didn’t really know anything about the Xanth books, other than that Anthony’s name comes up a fair bit in discussions of fantasy heavyweights and genre classics. It was given to me by a secret santa; I don’t know if I’d have ever picked it up on my own.

      …so, hooray for broadening horizons, at least!

  2. January 26, 2011 12:44 pm

    I have always been curious about this series, but haven’t made it around to reading it yet. I am pretty sure this is on my TBR pile somewhere. I need to get my TBR more organized!

    • January 27, 2011 9:22 am

      Kailana – LibraryThing’s been a huge help in keeping my TBR organized, since I’m way past the point where they will fit onto a shelf… or even onto a single bookcase!

  3. January 26, 2011 4:38 pm

    Back when these were published they were quite “the thing”; I know, now, that there were great female authors writing in the genre, but I certainly wasn’t seeing them nestled next to the Xanth books on the store shelves at that time (with the exception of Marion Zimmer Bradley). The covers on these always appealed to me, but I never really got into the series.

    • January 27, 2011 9:22 am

      BiP – I don’t think I would have picked this one up based on the cover – my eye keeps going back to the fact that it looks like Bink’s not wearing any pants! :)

  4. January 26, 2011 8:27 pm

    I didn’t exactly review this one book specifically, but I did talk about this author and the Land of Xanth in a nostalgic post last year. You may link to it if you think it would be appropriate. I mused in my post whether I would enjoy reading this series as much now as I did then. I suspect not. Hence, mostly nostalgia on my part. :-)

    Here’s the link:
    http://myrandomactsofreading.blogspot.com/2010/07/bookish-nostalgia-16-piers-anthony-and.html

    • January 27, 2011 9:27 am

      Kay – I’ve added your link, thanks!

      The impression that I’ve gotten is that while lots of people remember this series fondly, very few are actively reading it now, if that makes sense.

  5. January 28, 2011 10:50 am

    I read Xanth books back in the 1980s…and even though I was put off by the sexism (which he does move away from, further along in the series) there was something I found oddly compelling about these books, and I read them over and over again. When I was on maternity/sick leave for months after my first child, I read them all again, along with David Eddings (who I also read in the mid eighties, and who is also somewhat sexist). They were perfect for that particular situation–lots of books in the series, lots of entertainment, nothing emotionally wrenching….But the next book in the series, The Source of the Magic, is just as sexist, so I wouldn’t leap to recommend it to you!

    • January 31, 2011 9:42 am

      ccwtaylor – David Eddings was my first real entré back into fantasy novels as an adult – a housemate was re-reading them, and I was curious and picked them up. I can definitely see the similarities between those books and the Xanth novels, although I don’t remember finding Eddings’s books particularly sexist at the time.

  6. February 1, 2011 6:44 pm

    I read and loved this series back in the 80s – although even at the time the sexist comments got my back up. Still, there was enough in the characters and the magical world to hold my attention, and I read them for quite a long time. I still have a bunch on my bookshelf from back then, but I haven’t quite dared to reread them because I thought I might find them disappointing. I really loved the Incarnations of Immortality series – even more than this one. So I might start with those as a reread at some point. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  7. Conan permalink
    February 6, 2011 7:11 pm

    I must fess up I got totally addicted to these back in the 80’s could not stop reading them (up to the nth installment!) but then I have been accused of having the reading level of a 14 year old boy … which I am not. I love Heinlein as well and if you want to talk sexism!

  8. December 12, 2011 7:28 pm

    Oh I loved this book! As soon as the series went to following the next generation of characters, a little part of me died inside.

    Eliabeth Hawthorne

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