Thursday, July 30, 2009

Book Review: Enchanters by David Bryan Russell

Environmentalist fiction has a way of creating two reactions in me: sudden interest and eye-rolling irritation. David Bryan Russell’s Enchanters manages to bring a little of both, leaving me with a few mixed opinions. Enchanters follows Glys Erlendson, a teenager vacationing with her family in Norway. She has a powerful connection to the environment, but only when she encounters something strange in the wilderness of Norway does she begin to understand why. Glys is no ordinary human being; she is one of the Enchanters, a magic people who live in a world parallel to our own. She has heard the Call and must make a decision: ignore it and face the consequences, or leave humanity forever and join the magic world of the Enchanters. And her decision will lead her on an adventure through a mystical world of light and darkness and mythical creatures made real. Russell has developed an interesting merger between environmental issues and “wardrobe world” fantasies (I’m coining the term to refer to secondary worlds that are accessed through our own, taking its name from C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia). I personally enjoy stories that try to connect the existence and power of magic in such secondary worlds to the conditions of our own world, because it establishes an exceptional limitation on magic. Further development of this world, however, would create a fuller experience within Russell's novel, but future projects may benefit from a more epic scope. One of the “rules” of Russell’s world is that Enchanters cannot kill, and using that as a hindrance to characters in an epic setting could create some interesting situations. Enchanters’ flaws are unfortunately related to its strengths. While the magic and the secondary world Russell has created are fascinating, the environmentalist message is a tad heavy handed. The characters of the secondary world have a particular distaste for humanity despite the fact that many of them were once human themselves. This wouldn’t be an issue if humanity as a whole were unconcerned with environmental issues, but humanity is and always has been a species of grey. Glys hardly offers any support for humanity, and instead accepts the negative viewpoint of her fellow Enchanters with little question--there are scant moments where she actually questions her Enchanter brethren. While I understand the position, I think someone who has only just recently become one of these magic-using environmentalist should have something to say for humanity’s finer points. Other issues stemmed from the format of the book, which reads somewhat like a collection of separate stories than a novel with a single plot. Perhaps that was the intention, though. I think the novel could have benefited from being about only one of the stories presented, because the relationships between the characters sometimes felt forced, rather than smooth and logical. Of course, Russell does a fine job of keeping the visuals of the world stimulating, which draws one away from some of the minor flaws inherent in the text. Overall, Enchanters is an interesting and easy read, with curious creatures and characters, and a unique take on the “wardrobe world” theme. Stylistically it is sound, and my eyes want to thank Freya Publishing for using a reasonably sized typeface. Those who enjoy environmental fiction will find Enchanters to be a refreshing change in scenery, despite its heavy approach to its environmental message. Those who don’t might enjoy the non-epic nature of this fantasy. A good way to look at it is to refer to Enchanters as a fun fantasy, something that contains within its pages the makings of a serious tale and the awe-inspiring visuals that have made fantasy a fascinating and escapist genre for so long. You can find out more about Enchanters at Freya Publishing’s website. Enchanters is also available on Amazon and Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon had a copy the last time I was there. Your local bookstore can likely get you a copy as well, so feel free to order them to get you a copy!

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