Thursday, 29 May 2014

Book Review: Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl

Note: I picked up this book because Sharon Shinn mentioned in in her Recommended Reading post.

Pros: brilliant premise, real consequences for actions, realistic viewpoints for the 3 cultures, thought provoking

Cons: Elana’s a bit irritating

Elana is in training to become a member of the Federation’s Anthropological Service when her spaceship is diverted to Andrecia for a crisis.  Her father, the most senior member of the service on board is ordered to deal with the situation along with her intended and another member of the service.  After sneaking onto the landing shuttle, Elana becomes a central part of their plan when disaster hits.

Jarel is an apprentice medical officer in the Imperial Exploration Corps, helping with the clearing of land for a new base before the take over of Andrecia and the removal of its native population to a reservation.  But he wonders if the natives whom they have captured are human, like him, rather than subhuman as he’s been taught.

Georyn is a native of Andrecia.  While on the way to ask the king for permission to attack the dragon that’s been ravaging a nearby forest, he and his brothers pass the Enchanted forest and meet an Enchantress.  She warns them that defeating the dragon will be dangerous and advises them to return if they need her help.  Georyn and one brother do return to her and learn magic that will help them free their world from danger.

This is a fantastic story about how point of view differs depending on culture and technological (and other) advancements.  It’s based on the premise that sufficiently advanced technology appears like magic to those of less advanced societies.

This is also a coming of age story for the three protagonists, though more time is spent from Elana’s point of view, as her technology is the highest level, and so her viewpoint is the most expansive.

I found Elana a little irritating at the beginning, as she’s still in training and therefore doesn’t understand what’s really going on on the planet, thinking of their stop as an adventure.  She’s faced with a number of humbling experiences that cause her to question the service’s methods and realize that primitive technological ability does not equal a lack of intelligence.  She faces real consequences for the knowledge she gains.

Jarel’s point of view is difficult, or rather, uncomfortable to read.  As a colonizer, even one who questions what they’re doing to the natives, he still believes in the natural inferiority and inherent inhumanity of those whose technology isn’t equal to theirs.  Though he foreshadow the ending in ways that don’t quite feel natural given his position and narrative, the author does specifically point out these moments, showing she was aware of this and making a point with them.

I loved Georyn’s point of view.  Seeing magic in Elana’s actions and performing quests like those from fairy tales, was really cool.  I loved that he often figured out what was happening with regards to his training on his own and that he’d manufacture explanations for Elana’s actions that fit with his beliefs about her and her purpose.

The book on the whole is quite thought provoking.  Originally published in 1970 and reprinted in 2001, this is a book that deserves to be more widely read.

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