"As the bear heaved its chest up onto the pedestal, Ivan knelt beside the bead, leaned down, and kissed the woman's lips.
They were soft and alive. She kissed him back.
Her eyes opened. Her lips parted. She gave a soft cry, drew her head away from him."
Sound familiar? Like something out of a Disney fairytale? So begins one of Orson Scott Card's forays into the genre of fantasy writing. Many are already familiar with Card from the Ender series. Usually at the top of his game in the world of sci-fi, Card manages to tell an engaging story of love and folklore, even if it is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale.
Ivan is a scholarly Jewish young man that spent his childhood in the Ukraine, where he first encountered the 'sleeping beauty' alone in the woods and being guarded by some menace that he couldn't identify. Ivan runs away, dismissing it as a childhood fancy, but is drawn back to her when he visits the Ukraine again as an adult. This time he doesn't run, finds out that the menace is a fantastically large bear(who is in fact the russian god of winter) that guards the princess's slumber, and eventually wakes the princess with a kiss. In order to stop the bear from destroying them both, Ivan is able to glean from the princess that he must ask her to marry him. It's a good thing that he speaks her same ancient dialect of proto-Slavic. After all, she is from the 9th century, from a kingdom that isn't even recorded as having existed.
Ivan is about to discover a world of magic, russian gods, and powerful witches. While at first he thinks that such things are limited to the world of Traina, he soon discovers that his own time is not so separated from the realm of magic and gods. Indeed, his own father's cousin is none other than the Russian god of wind, Mikola Mozhaiski. Ivan is in for an adventure involving war, love and intrigue that spans two worlds over a thousand years apart.
The Protagonist. He is an athlete and an academic. Besides his above average academic knowledge, he often comes across as just your average joe.
- Katerina (Sleeping Beauty):
The princess of Traina. She is devoted to the safety of her kingdom and is the key to its protection because of spells that have linked her to it. She at first despises Ivan because of his utter lack of qualities that would make him a good 9th century knight and king. Her opinion begins to change as she is forced to travel to Ivan's time and finds herself as thoroughly out of place and ill-equipped to handle his world.
- King Matfei:
The king of Traina. Also devoted to his subjects like Katerina, he will cross almost any bounday in order to ensure their safety.
The highest ranking knight in all of Traina. He feels that it was his destiny to wake the princess from her enchanted slumber and resents Ivan because of it.
Taina's village cleric, mostly because he is a cripple. Becomes Ivan's closest confidant and strongest supporter, unfortunately to little avail.
Ivan's mother. Ivan eventually finds out that she is a witch that has studied the ancient magical arts. Her knowledge proves to be invaluable.
Ivan's father. This learned scholar taught Ivan all of his academic knowledge, and is the reason Ivan can speak proto-Slavic.
- Cousin Marek (Mikola Mozhaiski):
At first he appears to just be Piotr's cousin, but Ivan finds out that he is none other than the Russian sky god, Mikola.
- Baba Yaga (The Widow):
The antagonist. The dreaded evil witch of Russian lore. She curses the world just by breathing and wishes to annex the kindom of Traina to her own wretched lands. Her power is unmatched as she has bound the Russian god of winter, Bear, to her will.
The Russian god of winter. It was Bear that protected Russia by giving Napolean's army such a fierce winter to endure. He is only now a part of the world of men because of the spells of binding that Baba Yaga has ensnared him in.
"To anyone who doubts that Orson Scott Card is a master storyteller, here, in the fantasy Enchantment, is the ultimate proof, the preeminent test of storytelling: being able to move intimately in totally foreign lifestyles and cultures and to make the reader believe that the writer always lived there. Between getting the cadence of the dialogue correctly and fears and rationalization of both Jewish and Russian cultures, Card has produced a magnificent fairy-tale-that-isn't-a-fairy-tale-at-all."
- Anne McCaffrey