Classic Review: Enchantress from the Stars

Since I’m branching out from my usual fantasy into science fiction for NaNoWriMo this year, it seems appropriate to revisit one of my favorite books that exist at the perfect intersection between the two genres…


Science Fiction and Fantasy get lumped together all the time, in discussions, in “Best of” lists, in the bookstore.  But you rarely see them together in a single novel.  Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl is a brilliantly-devised story that could be in Earth’s distant past–or even more distant future.

The story is told by Elana, who belongs to a society far advanced beyond present-day Earth.  She is part of a Federation of many planets, joined together in peaceful cooperation.  They study less advanced worlds, but have a strict non-interference policy, believing that it’s best for cultures to develop without knowing about more advanced races.

(For the Star Trek fans–I know, I know.  All I can tell you is that this was written in 1971, but feels less like Star Trek when you’re actually reading it.)

Elana is training to be one of the scientists who studies Youngling worlds when she stows away on a mission to Andrecia.  Andrecia’s native people are at roughly a Middle Ages level of development.  Their future is threatened by colonists from another world–the Imperials have developed space travel, but have not yet achieved the level of Elana’s people, either technologically or culturally.  The Federation team’s mission is to induce the Imperials to leave, without harming either race’s culture.

Elana ends up taking on the role of Enchantress, to relate to the Andrecians in a way they can comprehend–she especially connects with one, Georyn.  She teaches him magic spells (combinations of technology and telekinesis), so that he can go fight the dragon (the Imperials’ digging machine).  The hope is that if an Andrecian uses powers the Imperials can’t understand, they’ll be convinced to give up their colony.

The brilliance of the story is that it’s told from three very different points of view–Elana, from her advanced, enlightened perspective; Georyn, who tells a Brothers Grimm-style story about a beautiful Enchantress, a dragon served by terrifying demons, and magical spells; and Jarel, an Imperial who questions what his government is doing but doesn’t know how to act–and is probably the closest to all of us who are reading.

The three perspectives are intertwined and so different, yet work so well together.  It’s emphasized, in Elana’s sections, that Georyn’s perspective on events isn’t wrong either–he simply has a different understanding, a different way of viewing what’s happening.  In some ways, he proves to be the most intelligent and the most insightful of any of the characters.

Elana is very interesting too, because we see her as the uncertain, often naive girl she is on the mission; as the strong and wise enchantress Georyn sees her as; and as the more mature voice telling the story after it’s all over.  Her character growth, throughout the story and from the after-perspective, is very excellently done.

This is a good adventure with compelling characters, and it’s ultimately a very hopeful story.  Engdahl is careful to place Andrecia, Elana’s home world, and the Imperials’ home planet all in the position of third from their stars.  It notes in the introduction that any of them could be Earth–this could be a story about our past, or a story about our future.  Ultimately, I don’t think it matters.  We’re all of them.  The hopeful part is that the book makes it clear that Georyn’s people, and Jarel’s, and us, can all learn and grow and eventually reach the wisdom of Elana’s people.

In that way I guess it is like Star Trek, as a vision of a hopeful future.  But if you want to take this as science fiction, as fantasy, as philosophy, or even as something with some of the same elements as Star Trek, it’s worth reading–it’s a wonderful book.

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
Book Snatch
Jenna St. Hilaire
Yours?  Let me know!

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Blog Hop: Reading Daily

book blogger hopThis week’s Book Blogger Hop question: Do you read every day? If so, do you have a “page goal?”

I absolutely read every day. I doubt there’s been a day in the last…10 years?…when I haven’t read for at least a few minutes. Honestly, I don’t know what people do with themselves if they don’t read (although I say that as someone who is perpetually too busy!) I read every morning before I get up—and every evening before I go to sleep—and generally for some time in between, like waiting in line, during breakfast, break time at work…

I don’t set any page goals (that would make it like work), although I do get a bit bothered if I notice I didn’t progress hardly at all in a day, and feel especially satisfied if I charged through a big chunk of reading.

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NaNoWriMo Day 18: Resurfacing and Still Writing

It’s been a while since my last NaNo update!  I’ve been out of town for several days on a trip to Disneyland–which was excellent, but not the best timing for NaNo.  However, because traveling with a writing friend is awesome, I did some writing on the trip and stayed on track for my word count despite the distractions of cool things like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Peter Pan ride–is anyone surprised those are two of my favorites? :)

I just passed 30,000 words today, keeping me still on target.  Plot-wise I think we’re going ahead pretty well too, though it’s always hard to tell.  I’m having something of a POV crisis, as about 25,000 words in Aza suddenly decided she wanted to tell a scene in her POV, and then 4,000 words later decided her next scene ought to be in first person after all, thanks.  So I’m just running with it…and will figure this out in revisions!

Have an excerpt!  The Boreans are an unusual species in that they are far more sensitive to light than most sentient species, but have excellent night vision.  So they’re completely nocturnal, creating some…differences in their mythology.  Here Aza is describing the story behind one of their constellations.

“The Boreans have a constellation called the Lightslayer,” I explained. “There was a valley trapped in perpetual daylight, and this one soldier ventured into the brightness and told stories to the glowing dragon guarding the valley and keeping it in daylight. The stories finally put the dragon to sleep and the soldier could kill it and bring the darkness back. But the light had got into his body too, and no one could look on him without being pained by his brilliance. So the gods took pity and placed him in the sky, where his brightness was too far away to hurt anyone, and he could stand as a guardian of the night.

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Blog Hop: Taking Time to Read

book blogger hopThis week’s Book Blogger Hop question: How long does it normally take you to read a book?

It…varies wildly? For a short book on a good reading day, I could finish in a day. More typically, I’d say a book runs three days to a week. Three days used to be more the average, but my new job has cut into my reading time. About the longest I ever spend on a book is two weeks (Les Miserables and Gone with the Wind). If I spend too long on one book, even a good one, I get bored with it and itch to move on. Because there are so many other books to read!

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Blog Banquet: Guest Post with A Library Mama

PFF Orange Grove Cover - SmallToday we’re on the final course of my blog banquet, celebrating the release of The People the Fairies Forget.  Today I have a guest post on A Library Mama, blog of Katy, “public librarian, bookworm and mother of two, among other things.”  Katy and I share a love of retold fairy tales, which is exactly what my book series is all about.

Katy suggested I write a post for her blog about either the inspirations behind the novel, or other retold fairy tales I recommend.  And I realized…those are kind of the same thing!  So check out my guest post for a few favorite books and stories that helped inspire my particular retelling.


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