So far, the new year has been very productive. I started (and finished) A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony (Fantasy 344 pages) yesterday. I have to say, it was much better than I was anticipating.
When the main character, Bink, was first introduced in the second paragraph of the novel, I was a little concerned. For some reason, that name encouraged me to think about clowns. While I don’t necessarily hate or fear clowns, they are not high on my list of characters I would prefer to read about in my fantasy books. I’m pretty sure I went through the entire book forcing myself to read “Bink” and not “Blink”. It took quite a bit of effort, but was worth it.
I definitely think that one of my favorite parts about the entire book was the world-building. Even the characters who lived in Xanth every day could still discover new and magical things, usually things that intended to kill them. But the world-building in the book also showed that just because a creature looks frightening and kills people does not mean that creature lacks a place in the ecology. Bink starts out the story already curious and respectful of the world in which he lives, but as his travels continue and become more fascinating, he also learns about the true balance of nature and creatures in Xanth. Nothing in that world exists for no reason. Some things appear to have no significant purpose, but in the end, everything apparently minor can turn into something rather major. I also enjoyed how everything was connected. It was along chain of related events that felt random but all fit together in a pattern too big to notice.
In a lot of ways, I guess the characters were kind of stereotypical. There are a few women in the story, and all of them are flawed. I kind of think Bink is also flawed, so in that sense, the characterization was pretty normal for a book that came out in the 1970s. The first woman in the story is Sabrina, who is smart, talented, beautiful, and convenient. Bink and Sabrina are together because it seems like a good idea and they truly do believe they love one another, but it seems as though Sabrina is a bit shallow. Cherie the centaur behaves as I would expect a typical centaur to behave, with the whole history lesson thing. Iris can make herself appear to be beautiful, but you never really know what her true looks are. She’s also a bit temperamental and behaves similarly to a three-year-old who feels they are not getting what they deserve or want. Then there’s the three women that frustrate me the most. Wynne is beautiful but stupid. Dee is totally average. Fanchon is unbelievably intelligent but very ugly. It almost felt like Bink was noticing that there was no such thing as a perfect package where a woman is smart and beautiful and yet the two main male characters seem to be both rather in shape, but it never occurs to them that they might NOT be attractive. I dunno. I can’t decide if it really bothers me or not.
I’m going to sidetrack a little bit here and talk about Bink. Bink really did show remarkable character when he refused the advances of both Iris and Wynne, though Wynne was so unintelligent that she simply thought that her looks were the only thing that men wanted and so she didn’t really advance on him so much as attempt to stick to things she thought she knew about people’s interactions. Iris was very forward about what she wanted and what she was willing to do to get what she wanted. Yet Bink constantly attempted to make the right decisions for the right reasons, working to benefit all of his homeland, not just the decisions that would be easiest or most personally rewarding for him.
There also seemed to be a trend along the environmental lines of taking care of the world you live in, and I suppose the end is supposed to be one of those “people are just fine the way they are and shouldn’t change to meet other people’s standards” kinds of things. Or maybe it’s one of those “everyone has a perfect match” kind of things, which is infinitely more frustrating because I don’t believe that’s really true in the real world. I suppose that’s why we read fantasy in the first place, is to escape from the real world, so I can’t really fault the Happily Ever After ending.
Overall, I did enjoy the book. The world-building was the best and Bink is a character that does what he believes is the right thing for the right reasons. I might pick up more of the Xanth books at a later date, but not likely anytime soon, due to my schedule and the books I currently own and have on my list that must be read.