Wrede, Patricia C. The Book of Enchantments (1996). 234 Pages. Magic Carpet Books. $5.95
Shortly after I read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles the first time around, I came across a little red book with a picture of a snake-thing on it. I thought it was weird, but I was on a short-story anthology kick, and I knew I liked the author. (I apparently also like the editor- Jane Yolen, though I didn’t know that at the time.) Unfortunately, like most of Ms. Wrede’s other books, it has been republished in the last decade with a lousy little-kid cover. The cover aside, it’s a good book. There are ten stories in this book, and I must admit, I liked some better than others.
Rikiki and the Wizard is set in Liavek*, and features a small blue chipmunk. Ryvenna is the very clever daughter of a not-so-clever but incredibly lucky wizard. Rikiki is a blue chipmunk god with a love of nuts. As a standalone, it’s nothing special, but in the context of Liavek, it’s pretty good.
The Princess, the Cat, and the Unicorn takes us back to the Enchanted Forest. Princess Elyssa is an untraditional princess from an untraditional kingdom. She finds herself in a forest dealing with a Unicorn who believes that she is there for the sole purpose of pampering him. The cat is talkative- strange for a cat- and helps Elyssa get away from the selfish unicorn.
Roses by Moonlight is one of those stories that sticks with you. Samantha is the prodigal daughter, and Adrian is her envious elder sister. One night as she avoids her sister’s party, Adrian finds herself in a magical rose garden with the chance to choose her future. Her mother took the chance once, and now Adrian has the same opportunity. The garden brings about an epiphany, and sets her on a different path than she might have otherwise followed.
The Sixty-two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd is a funny tale which plays with lycanthropy in a mostly lighthearted way. It’s one of those stories which I think was pretty obvious, but since I’ve read it before, I really can’t be sure. I don’t think I was surprised the first time around, either.
Earthwitch was a bit strange, and I’m not sure how I felt about it. Mariel is the Earthwitch, a position which she has had for nearly 7 years, and she is nearly done with her term. Evan Rydingsword comes to the Earthwitch for help, because he has discovered that he alone cannot save his kingdom. It turns out that they have a past, and in the end, they might have a future. It’s a solid story, but it seems a bit heavy for an anthology which has been targeted at such a young group.
The Sword-Seller is another heavy tale with all the earmarks of traditional fantasy; a mercenary agrees to help a beautiful girl with something which he is not entirely sure about. There is a duel, and something ends, but the story itself has one of those vague endings, where it is clear that things will continue even after the story is over.
The Lorelei is set in modern times. Janet is a high schooler who is visiting Germany on a field trip. Little does she know that she will encounter a mythical being and save both herself and a classmate. It’s very different from the other stories in this book, and very nearly didn’t fit in.
Stronger than Time is a Sleeping Beauty retelling. Her prince didn’t survive to save her, and this story is what happens because he was too impatient to wait for his chance to save her from the castle. It feels like it should have been a bit longer. It’s another story which ends in such a way that it’s clear that everything is not over.
Cruel Sisters is perhaps my favorite and least favorite in the book. It’s based on the ballad of the enchanted harp (which goes by many names, so you may know it by a different one), but has a third sister who tells the tale. Because of the third impartial sister, the story is entirely different from the ballad. It’s one of the darkest tales in the book, and really has no happily ever after. Sure, the middle sister eventually moves on, but she continues blaming herself for the deaths of her sisters.
Utensile Strength is an Enchanted Forest Chronicles story. A sorcerer mistakenly created the Frying Pan of Doom, and in order to find the proper owner, Cimorene and Mendanbar host a tournament. It’s as quirky as all the other tales set in the Enchanted Forest.
We get a recipe at the end of the book, which I intend to make tomorrow night. I’ll post some pictures when I do. (Are there any other books you guys know of which have recipes relating to the stories?)
The anthology as a whole has some unity, but a few stories are dramatic outliers; most are high fantasy, but Roses by Moonlight and The Lorelei are both contemporary stories. Many of them are quirky and fun, but some are downright dark. Ultimately, the only thing which unifies all the stories is the author. It’s enjoyable, and I’d definitely recommend reading it. It gets a 5/5 for being so awesome.
* Liavek is one of the coolest things I’ve repeatedly come across. It’s a shared-world with many stories set in it, written by a lot of authors that fantasy readers would know. Rikiki and the Wizard is one story, Green is the Color** comes out of another anthology I have, and the end result is that I own a very carefully preserved copy of the 1985 Liavek anthology.
** I’ll take some time to review this story and the anthology it’s in later this month.