Full Disclosure #1: I met Alethea Kontis at the Nebula Awards, and she was delightful. When I told her that I hadn't finished her book yet, but was hoping to finish it that night in preparation for our interview the next day, she said, “No! Don't do that! It's the Nebulas! Stay up and drink! I'll come up with some questions and I promise not to tell you how it ends!” So I have some bias.
Full Disclosure #2: I didn't stay up late drinking per se, but I did stay up late, and the next morning I finished the book really fast while frenetically eating M&Ms, because that's what conferences are all about, baby! As a result, there were several moments when I was all, “Where did that beanstalk come from?” Also, “Where's my room key?”
In short, I'm not sure what it's like to read Enchanted in a fully awake state, but from a groggy and confused standpoint I can tell you that it is a fun, romantic, melodramatic fairly tale. I'm not using the word “melodramatic” in a pejorative way. Sometimes I am in the mood for some good melodrama. I want glittery dresses and gruesome enchanted axe injuries and pirate queens and bizarre magical practices and tears of both sadness and happiness, and that's what I got. This book is deliberately over the top in its tone and in its use of many, many fairy tale tropes. My favorite line, which involves a lost shoe: “You seem to have misplaced a re-occurring theme”. It's not camp, it's just… big. The emotions are big, the dresses are big, the giant is huge – you get the idea.
Enchanted is about Sunday, the seventh daughter of a seventh son and a seventh daughter, and a frog prince. Each of Sunday's sisters is named after a day of the week, and each is blessed and/or cursed with the quality from the rhyme:
Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is blithe and bonny and good and gay.
Sunday, who is not especially blithe and is neither gay in the sense of being happy nor in the sense of being sexually attracted to women, meets and falls in love with a talking frog named Grumble. They fall in love almost instantly. Normally that would bother me, but their love is so fully based in mutual respect and acceptance and affection that I totally rooted for them from the start. Of course, there's also the fact that this is a fairy tale, so immediate love goes with the package.
Their story ends up involving almost every fairy tale trope possible including, wait for it…AMNESIA! In this case, the amnesia is both plausible and dealt with well. It helps that it's caused by magic and not head trauma, so it follows magic rules, if you will. Somewhat surprisingly, there's no secret baby, unless I missed that part.
I try to be clear about when I'm reviewing a “Romance Novel” and when I'm reviewing a book that happens to have some romance in it. Enchanted is being marketed as YA fantasy, but romance is so central to the story that I'd say it qualifies completely as a Romance Novel. I don't recommend speed-reading it as I did. Take your time. There are a lot of characters, a lot of layers, and a lot of plot to follow.
I love this line: “I cannot promise you a happy ending, but I can promise you an interesting life”. Sunday and Grumble fall in love very quickly, and then spend a lot of time separated physically and/or emotionally, but when things go crazy they always have each other's back – even if they are in mid-misunderstanding, even if they think they won't end up being together after all. That's become one of my tests of a good romance. Any couple can support each other while they are getting along, but do they support each other even when they are fighting? Even after a break-up? Is the support mutual?
There's a lot of mutual saving in this book and interestingly they mostly work together to save other people, not each other. I like this couple, I like the story, and I'm even more excited to read the next book, Hero. Each story is supposed to work as a stand alone with a shared work and some shared characters, so I'm excited. I don't think this book is perfect (it's really busy and rushed) and I don't think it's for everyone (melodrama) but I do think that Alethea has earned her tiara.