Enchantment’s blurb promises “an original fantasy brimming with romance and adventure.” And, for a change, the blurb doesn’t lie. If you can get past the dreadfully slow beginning you’ll discover an amusing love story and a great retelling of what happens to Sleeping Beauty and her prince after that curse-lifting kiss.
When he was only ten, Ivan stumbled upon a leaf-filled clearing and got his first glimpse of a beautiful princess cursed to sleep until kissed by a brave knight. Before he could investigate further, something stirred in the leaves and he fled.
Years later his family has relocated from Russia to America where Ivan is now a graduate student majoring in ancient Slavic languages and history. He leaves his fiance Ruthie behind and travels to his homeland to research his thesis. Back in Russia he is compelled to return to the clearing where he once again finds the beautiful and still enchanted princess. After an excessive amount of rambling and setup, the story finally picks up some steam here. Ivan, whose body is honed to perfection (he was preparing for the decathlon), manages to outwit the beast guarding the princess and gives her the much-anticipated kiss. And instead of the sanitized happily ever after he expects, this is where Ivan’s troubles begin.
Princess Katerina, bound by a curse placed by the evil witch Baba Yaga, must marry the man who breaks the curse and return with him to her time (1000 years earlier) in order to save her people. Neither of them is thrilled with this plan. Ivan’s always been proud of his decathlete’s body but Katerina takes one look at his smooth, white skin and asks him if he’s been sick. She makes him feel most unmanly. She also insults him at every turn. Though he’s caught in a strange world, Ivan is a genuinely sweet guy who weathers the insults to his manhood and tries his damnedest to change himself into a warrior to help Katerina. Some of the funniest and best dialogue happens during this stage of the book, like the following exchange:
“Those are houses?” asked the oaf.
“What do you think they are, hayracks?” How stupid was he?
“I just mean they’re – small.”
“Not everybody is as tall as you,” she said. “I don’t imagine you could even lie down straight in a regular house. Not without sticking your head out the door and your ass in the fire.”
“You have such a pretty way of talking,” he said. “Like a princess.”
Later, fleeing Baba Yaga, the tables are turned when Katerina travels to Ivan’s time and begins to understand the hell she put him through. It is here that Katerina learns to respect and love her kind husband and their relationship begins to advance from constant bickering to one of friendship. But be warned, readers: this doesn’t happen quite early enough.
Katerina, who is a bit prickly at first, quickly develops into a decent and admirable heroine. She’s no simpering miss nor is she a spoiled or pampered princess. Ivan is as fine a hero as will be found in any romance novel. He’s honorable, insecure (yet never weak or a geek) and almost unbelievably old-fashioned. He has a sweetness that will appeal to anyone sick of macho, brain-dead, chest-pounding hunks. Although the romance is very sweet, don’t be lulled into thinking this is a “sweet” read – the villain is nasty and her deeds are often gross and disturbing.
This story would have been easier to read if fifty or so pages had been cut. At times the author is long-winded and blathers on and on until you feel your head may explode from the torment but when he finally gets back to the love story or to the goings-on of the gloriously evil Baba Yaga, it’s worth wading through the mind-numbing stuff.
My advice? If you’re like me and are constantly on the lookout for a well-written romantic fantasy (and rarely find one that lives up to your expectations), pick this one up at the library or buy it when it’s released in paperback. The characters are great, the romance is decent and the story is filled with magic and rich historical detail. Just remember to exercise the fine art of skimming.
|Review Date:||August 24, 1999|