Enchantment by Orson Scott Card
Enchantment is a retelling of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. It is not quite a modern retelling, but it is not all in the past either, which is why it is so ingenious. The story takes place in Russia, where a boy named Ivan Smetski learns he is now becoming a Jew in order to leave the country. His parents are seeking political asylum, and since his mother is a Jew, they decide to convert in order to get a visa to leave the Soviet Union. When the story opens, Ivan is ten years old and has no idea why his parents are suddenly changing their entire lives. In the process of leaving, they go to stay with his cousin Marek for a while in the countryside. As he explores the woods, he comes upon a strange place—a valley-like clearing in the forest, with a pedestal in her middle, upon which is a young woman sleeping. His curiosity is sparked, but he soon discovers there is some creature protecting the woman and he runs away. Soon after, his family leaves the country, but he never forgets that clearing or that young woman.
The story then skips ahead to Ivan as an adult, where he decides to research for his doctorate in Russia. He returns to the country, leaving behind his Jewish fiancée, Ruthie, in the United States. But he cannot get the forest clearing out of his head, so before he returns home after finishing his research, he decides to return there. What happens next is quite literally magical, and he ends up waking the young woman, who is a princess of Taina named Katrina. However, here is where the story takes a completely unexpected turn. I won’t explain more because there is so much joy in how Card unfolds this story, but I will say that Ivan gets himself into many complicated situations.
Orson Scott Card took the bones of the fairy tale, and he created a realistic setting where it could take place. He throws in element of magic and time travel to make it work, but it does not detract from the realistic nature of the retelling, and as always, his characters are completely solid and wonderfully written. His villain is absolutely terrifying and each time and place and culture (of which there are many) are expertly researched. Before I read is book, I didn’t have much knowledge of Russia and the Ukraine’s history, but now I am curious to know more (especially given the current events happening in that area of the world). Fairy tale retellings are one of my favorite types of books, and this one is so good. It almost reads like historical fiction, but there is nothing dry or boring about it, and it also brings up many different questions about religious and political tension.
In short, read this book. Orson Scott Card is an excellent author and this may be one of my new favorites.