(Cover picture courtesy of Dahl’s Doll.)
Xanth was the enchanted land where magic ruled—where every citizen had a special spell only he could cast. It was a land of centaurs and dragons and basilisks.
For Bink of North Village, however, Xanth was no fairy tale. He alone had no magic. And unless he got some—and got some fast—he would be exiled. Forever. But the Good Magician Humfrey was convinced that Bink did indeed have magic. In fact, both Beauregard the genie and the magic wall chart insisted that Bink had magic. Magic as powerful as any possessed by the King or by Good Magician Humfrey—or even by the Evil Magician Trent.
Be that as it may, no one could fathom the nature of Bink’s very special magic. Bink was in despair. This was even worse than having no magic at all…and he would still be exiled!
Thus begins Piers Anthony’s enthralling Xanth series.
Warning: this book contains mature content and more sexism than you’re probably used to reading, even for high fantasy.
I was pretty skeptical when I picked up A Spell for Chameleon for the first time. I remember that I picked it up sometime in the fifth grade when I needed a book to kill time as I had finished all of my work in class. Even though we technically weren’t supposed to, it was so good that I took it home and finished it that evening, enjoying every minute of it.
Having read a lot more fantasy since then, A Spell for Chameleon isn’t as good as I thought it was, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. In fact, it’s a very good book that even puts a few new spins on high fantasy. The mystery of Bink’s power was very hard to guess, but in hindsight I suppose there were hints throughout the novel, albeit very subtle ones. Some writers can’t pull off mysteries like this, but Piers Anthony is definitely not one of them.
The world of Xanth itself is very well thought out and although it strays into the realm of cliché fairly often, you have to take into account when this was written: 1977. In 1977, the high fantasy genre wasn’t nearly as homogenous as it is now, so Piers Anthony did have some innovations in his genre. What I liked the most about the world was the Shield; it explained how Xanth was completely cut off from Mundanes and how it kept its special magical properties.
While the world-building is good (but not excellent), the characters were…less than impressive. Bink was three dimensional enough to be believable, as was Trent, but the secondary characters were lacking. The women in the novel (Bianca, Fanchon, Dee, Sabrina) were one dimensional and were basically stereotypes: the mother figure, the ugly genius, the average girl, the manipulative beautiful girl, etc. So if you’re looking for strong female characters or are easily offended, A Spell for Chameleon is not for you.
I give this book 3/5 stars.