melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2017-09-06 08:01 pm
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FMK: Enchantress from the Stars and Mirror Friend, Mirror Foe

Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl is, above all, a good book. And I don't mean in the sense of well-written or I liked it (although those are also true) but good the way a good person is good. Good like a video of a puppy rescuing a kitten. Goodness baked into it all the way through. It was exactly the sort of book I needed to read these last couple weeks.

When I started I honestly wasn't expecting to call it good in any of those senses. The main character, Elana, is just. Super-annoying in all of the best YA ways. The book starts with Elana, who we are told is a disciplined trainee with lifelong dedication to the most elite, dangerous, and important of careers, stowing away on her dad's dangerous and vital mission because she was bored.

Then we start getting right into love triangle territory.

But. Somehow, it all works.

It's a book about innocence, above all. So Elana's choices, and her dad's reactions, that seemed ridiculous and contrived at the beginning start to actually make character sense as we begin to learn just how innocent she was at the start of the story - the book draws her home society as a believable utopia (mostly by not showing us much of it at all,) and she acts like she doesn't understand consequences because most people in her society don't need to. The other two POV characters are also sheltered in their own ways - Georin, growing up in a medieval-ish society, understands about suffering and cruelty in ways Elana can't, but doesn't know anything outside his village; and Jarel is from a technological star empire, highly educated but just starting to look outside the ideological bubble he was raised in. All three of them, over the course of the book, grow and learn beyond what someone in their society would usually be expected to.

And yet, it's not really a book about "loss of innocence", like a lot of coming-of-age books are: all three of come out of the experience more knowing, but they don't become cynical or hardened or or scarred or lose that essential goodness and wonder that they started with.

And the love triangle never really becomes a love triangle because all three of the people involved in it are too innocent to ever quite realize they're in one. It's tragic because they all know Elana can't stay with them both, but it's not about her choosing between them - she knows she can marry Terwyn and she can't ever marry Georyn, the end - but there's never any idea from any of them that her choosing to love Georyn, but only while she can, makes her love for either of them or theirs for her any less. It was so refreshing to have "who do I pick?" just... never come up.

It was really interesting, actually, to see this as a book that had the bones of a modern SF YA book - the love triangle setup, the teenagers who get in over their head and discover that there's more to the world they live in than they thought, the resulting coming-of-age - and yet it doesn't go any of the places the modern SF would go with it; the love triangle fizzles and instead of leading a rebellion they go back home with a deeper understanding of the flaws of their worlds but also a greater faith in the potential of those worlds and a greater determination to work within them.

Plotwise, it's. Um. I don't really buy that the thing they did to fix the thing should have worked or that any version of their plan ever should have worked. On the other hand, this was definitely a book written by someone who'd been watching Star Trek and thinking a lot harder about the Prime Directive than Star Trek ever did.

Anyway, I liked it, it reminded me that sometimes there are good things that are just good when I needed that, I'm glad I read it and it's definitely a keeper.


I also read Mirror Friend, Mirror Foe by Robert Asprin and George Takei. Imagine if someone had gone to George Takei in the 70s and said "if you could publish any book, what would it be about?" and he said "Japanese-American fencing ninja vs. corpocratic killer robots in space."

If your reaction was "yes, good, do that" you would probably find this book at least mildly entertaining.


I'm also trying to read Han of Iceland by Victor Hugo but, folks, it's... not good. Also I added it to the poll on the basis of I've had an ecopy on my phone for several years waiting to be read, and also it was short so it couldn't be too painful, but the OCR on all the online versions was terrible so I got a library copy, but then it became apparent that all of the online versions must just be Part 1 of 2 despite not being marked that way, because in fact it is not short. I dunno if I can do this.

My mom saw the library copy lying out and since she's also been reading books about Iceland she picked it up and said "the very first line of the introduction is about how terrible this book is, why are you reading it?" (I told her my internet friends dared me to. She has learned to just accept answers like that.)

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