Alethea Kontis’s ENCHANTED is a book about Sunday Woodcutter, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and Rumbold, the Crown Prince of Arilland. Sunday meets Rumbold after he’s been turned into a frog — a very traditional opening, that — and starts to tell him about her family from the stories she’s written in her notebook. These are all true stories, true past stories to be exact, and don’t seem all that magical to the reader. But it’s how Sunday tells the story that counts — she’s straightforward, yet has verve and charm. This is probably why Rumbold (called “Grumble” as a frog) is completely captivated by Sunday, though the fact that he doesn’t remember being a human being probably also has something to do with it.
At any rate, there’s a major problem standing between Rumbold and Sunday’s love. It has nothing to do with the fact that Rumbold met Sunday as a frog, nor does it have much to do with the fact that Sunday is a “seventh of a seventh,” meaning she’ll be an extremely powerful magician even if, as of yet, she’s both untrained and unaware of this. Nope. It’s that Rumbold’s father did something to Sunday’s elder brother, Jack, years ago, something that angered Sunday’s whole family as Jack’s never been seen since. Because of this, once Rumbold has regained his humanity and realized Sunday is related to Jack Woodcutter and understands this problem, it seems as if there’s no way in the world these two will ever be able to get together.
Of course, Sunday is blissfully ignorant of most of what’s been going on in the kingdom of Arilland. She knows her father is a hardworking wood cutter (thus the family name). She knows her mother is kind, but rarely says anything she doesn’t mean due to her mother’s unusual magic. Her six sisters all have (or had) various magical talents (one is dead, but the other five remain), though both Sunday and her elder sister Saturday are unaware of what their particular talents are for the majority of ENCHANTED.
As the story moves along, Rumbold realizes that his father, the King, has been held for quite some time under an evil enchantment of his own, one unrelated to Sunday or her immediate family, but that has ramifications for them due to the type of power they all have. Rumbold vows to find a way to break that power for many reasons, most importantly because as the next King, he can choose his own mate — and we all know he’s going to choose Sunday.
So what happens next? A grand ball, what else? (Shades of the traditional Cinderella epics, there.) This gives Sunday’s sister Friday a chance to show off her big talents — the making of ball gowns and other wearable fabric art — and of course leads to a few more plot complications, all of which you’ll immediately recognize if you’ve ever read any fairy tales whatsoever, but that are told with such charm that you just can’t help but enjoy the story all over again. (Since this book partly is a romance, well . . . let’s just say that a happy ending is likely and leave it at that.)
The one potential downside here is this: the plot of ENCHANTED is a great deal like Orson Scott Card’s The Tales of Alvin Maker series (minus the fact that it’s not set in an alternate America, of course), especially when it comes to the special power of the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. (In Card’s series, Alvin Maker is the seventh son of a seventh son, and can do all sorts of interesting things because of that fact.) ENCHANTED is also highly reminiscent of Patricia C. Wrede’s stories, most particularly the chronicles of the Enchanted Forest, mostly because Sunday is resilient, honest to a fault, and doesn’t really know what she’s doing (much like Daystar, hero of Wrede’s TALKING TO DRAGONS). So it’s obvious that originality, per se, is not what Kontis was getting at.
However, ENCHANTED is like these other novels in a good way, not a bad one; it’s as if Kontis distilled the essence of what makes both Card’s and Wrede’s books so interesting, and managed to come up with her own spin on the subject. One that reads as a fairy tale and as a credible fantasy-romance; one that certainly references those writers who’ve come before her and have done so well in the genre; one that kept me reading until the end of ENCHANTED, only to turn back to page one and start the book again.
Bottom line: ENCHANTED is a good novel for anyone who loves fairy tales, fantasy (particularly female-centered fantasy), or romance. Yes, it’s an homage to Card, Wrede, the late Grandmaster André Norton, and others — but that’s not a bad thing, in context.
– reviewed by Barb