Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book of Enchantments

I didn't give many Christmas presents this year. At least, not yet. And by "many" I mean "more than one." See, there was this baby...

But my sister Melanie had a present on her wish list that I just couldn't resist. She said she had so many books available to read, especially on our family's Kindle account, that she'd like someone to give her the gift of time by reviewing some of those Kindle books, or other favorites of theirs; helping her to decide which ones to read. So I sent her a long list of books I've been meaning to review, and she told me which ones she hadn't read.

I didn't promise many, or well, any, really. I didn't want to make a promise I can't keep, and being a new mother, I'm pretty unsure about how much I could possibly promise and keep. But I'm going to aim to review a couple books every month for this whole year. I'm looking forward to telling you what to read, Melanie!

Maybe occasionally I'll also review something she has read, a couple of those books on my sidebar. Be nice for that to-review list to stop growing longer and longer and longer...

Melanie, I hope you don't have too hard of a time obtaining copies of the books I review. Many of them may not be on the Kindle account, so I may not help you much with selecting books there after all... meh.

I'm going to start the series out with an easy one, a review that I'd drafted which had moldered away on here without getting posted for no apparent reason. Last date I edited it was 10/5/10, that may be when I wrote most of it. Melanie, enjoy! And the rest of you, too!

Book of Enchantments by Patricia C. Wrede
Read: 7/29/10-8/26/10
Click here for my sister Sondy's review

If you like Patricia C. Wrede (and why wouldn't you?) I recommend picking up this collection of short stories sometime. If you've never read any of her books, I suggest starting with Dealing with Dragons, although you don't have to, and although I haven't read all her books, so I don't say that with complete authority. It's just that there were a few stories in the collection I wasn't crazy about, which makes Dealing with Dragons of a higher consistent quality. And there was a story about the Enchanted Forest characters which "spoils" who ends up with who. I put it in quotation marks because it's one of those obvious pairings, and the suspense in that respect isn't what makes the stories.

Book of Enchantments was copyright 1996. There are ten stories from rather various sources, conveniently detailed in Notes from the Author at the back. The original stories range all the way from 1981 up to the one story written for the collection, which I'm guessing, even if the publishing process was long (well, of course, it would be, it always is), would have been written in 1995 at the earliest. She talks about them in the order she wrote them rather than the order they're presented in the book -- it isn't the same order, although there are rough similarities. Swap a couple of the middle ones, move the oldest story in between them, move one of the newer ones towards the start, and you're all good. But anyway.

Four of the stories were written for anthologies -- a Liavek "shared world" anthology, a unicorn anthology put together by Bruce Coville, a Witch World anthology and a werewolf anthology put together by Jane Yolen, although it didn't end up making the cut for reasons of a humorous story not fitting with the tone. Oddly enough, of those four stories, only the Witch World one, "The Sword-Seller," felt very unlike Wrede's normal style. It was more dramatic and less humorous than her norm, but still good. I wouldn't pick up the book just for that one, but nonetheless, likable. On the other hand, out of the six stories not written for anthologies, maybe as many as four of them felt a little un-Wrede-like to me. Obviously I am not familiar with all the styles of Wrede. And I know, she is allowed to do dramatic and not just humorous. But I think I would prefer longer work for her dramatic, novels instead. Still, I guess some of the dramatic stories with nice premises or twists worked quite well. "Stronger Than Time" was a great Sleeping Beauty twist. But then, maybe because it was connected to a fairy tale, it was one of the ones that felt Wrede-like to me, despite not being laugh-out-loud funny. Meh. I'm so putting her in a box. Sorry, Patricia C. Wrede!

My favorites were the ones that felt totally like her to me -- "Rikiki and the Wizard," "The Princess, the Cat, and the Unicorn," and "Utensile Strength." Probably in fourth would be "The Sixty-Two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd." These stories were awesome.

"Rikiki and the Wizard" was the one I mentioned earlier was written for a Liavek anthology, which is why its subtitle is "A S'Rian Folk Story" -- I never would have guessed that the blue chipmunk god in this story was not Wrede's own creation, but no, she says in the Notes, "I had spent a good portion of one morning reading a book of American Indian folktales and had started wondering what sort of folk stories the Liavekans might tell each other, particularly about their not-too-bright chipmunk god, Rikiki."  Who would have thought someone else would have thought of such a thing?  At any rate, the story was hilarious. I ended up starting to read portions aloud to others in the room, but then going back and reading the tiny bit at the beginning I'd skipped and then reading the whole thing aloud. It was good.

It's more obviously understandable why I recognize and love the style in "The Princess, the Cat, and the Unicorn" and "Utensile Strength," as they're both set in the Enchanted Forest. The first was another read-aloud good one -- the cat of the title is so wonderfully cat-like ("'How would you like to have your tail stepped on?' 'I don't have a tail,' Elyssa said, considerably startled. 'And if you hadn't been lying in front of me, I wouldn't have stepped on you.' 'Cat's privilege,' said the cat, and began furiously washing his injured tail.'"), the unicorn is... well, to quote the Notes,

"Naturally, Enchanted Forest unicorns would be beautiful and magical and intelligentbut, being intelligent, they would certainly know just how beautiful and magical they were, and would expect to be treated accordingly..." ("'Gracious!' Elyssa said. 'Yes I am, aren't I?' said the unicorn complacently.')

And as for "The Princess" part of the title, I think I shall simply quote again, from the beginning of the story, this time. That seems best and most enjoyable.

"Princess Elyssa and her sisters lived in the tiny, comfortable kingdom of Oslett, where nothing ever seemed to go quite the way it was supposed to. The castle garden grew splendid dandelions, but refused to produce either columbine or deadly nightshade. The magic carpet had a bad case of moths and the King's prized seven-league boots only went five-and-a-half leagues at a step (six leagues, with a good tailwind).

There were, of course, compensations. None of the fairies lived close enough to come to the Princesses' christenings (though they were all most carefully invited) so there were no evil enchantments laid on any of the three Princesses. The King's second wife was neither a wicked witch nor an ogress, but a plump, motherly woman who was very fond of her stepdaughters. And the only giant in the neighborhood was a kind and elderly Frost Giant who was always invited to the castle during the hottest part of the summer (his presence cooled things off wonderfully, and he rather liked being useful).

The King's councillors, however, complained bitterly about the situation. They felt it was beneath their dignity to run a kingdom where nothing ever behaved quite as it should. They grumbled about the moths and dandelions, muttered about the five-and-a-half-league boots, and remonstrated with the Queen and the three Princesses about their duties...

'It's all very well for a middle Princess to be ordinary,' the chief of the King's councillors told her in exasperation. 'But this is going too far!'...

But the councillors refused to give up. They badgered and pestered and hounded poor Elyssa until she simply could not bear it anymore. Finally she went to her stepmother, the Queen, and complained.

'Hmmph,' said the Queen. 'They're being ridiculous, as usual. I could have your father talk to them, if you wish.'

'It won't do any good,' Elyssa said.

'You're probably right,' the Queen agreed, and they sat for a moment in gloomy silence.

'I wish I could just run off to seek my fortune,' Elyssa said with a sigh.

Her stepmother straightened up suddenly. 'Of course!  The very thing. Why didn't I think of that?'

'But I'm the middle Princess,' Elyssa said. 'It's youngest Princesses who go off to seek their fortunes.'

'You've been listening to those councillors too much,' the Queen said. 'They won't like it, of course, but that will be good for them.' The Queen was not at all fond of the councillors because they kept trying to persuade her to turn her stepdaughters into swans or throw them out of the castle while the King was away."

And as for "Utensile Strength," well, it's a story about the Frying Pan of Doom. Need I say more?  No, but you can count on me wanting to. I mean, it's just so quotable.

"'And Mother says it was her best frying pan and now she's going to have to start all over breaking in a new one, because you can't cook chicken in the Frying Pan of Doom. It just wouldn't be right.'"

"'Heroes want a weapon that sounds heroic and magicalthe Thunder Mace or the Sword of Starsnot the Frying Pan of Doom. And on top of that... Well, here, try to touch it. But be careful.'

Gingerly, Daystar reached out and touched the side of the pan. 'Ow!  It's hot!'

Tamriff nodded. 'Nobody can pick it up unless they're wearing an oven mitt. And no hero wants to go into battle wearing an oven mitt and swinging a frying panor at least, none of the fifty-seven heroes Father has checked with so far.'"

Heh heh.

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