Sonderbooks Book Review of Enchantress from the Stars

Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations

cover

*****Enchantress from the Stars

by Sylvia Louise Engdahl

Reviewed October 24, 2001.
A Sonderbooks' Best Book of 2001
Walker & Company.  2001.  Was first published in 1970, and won a Newbery Honor Award.  288 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (JF ENG).

This book is a masterpiece.  The reason I read it this week was that my friend Jody Meyer asked if I could recommend any books to read to her high school class.  I started telling her about this one, and decided I wanted to read it again myself, even though I read it for the first time only a few months ago.  I wanted to make sure it was as good as I remembered, and also think whether it would be a good choice for reading to my boys after we finish the book we’re on.  Yes to both questions!

This book is fantasy and science fiction both.  The premise is ingenious, and is carried out masterfully.  The book involves three different peoples, on three different planets.  Any one of them could be earth, in either the future or the past.  One society, on the planet of Andrecia, is still in the equivalent of the Middle Ages.  Georyn and his three brothers, sons of a woodcutter, have set out seeking the king’s reward by attempting to slay a dragon that has appeared.

Another society is more advanced, a bit like the people in Star Trek.  They have star ships and have now set out to expand their empire to new planets.  The problem is that they’ve chose Andrecia to settle on, thinking of the inhabitants as so barbaric as to not really be human.  The “dragon” the Andrecians fear is simply a huge machine the Imperial Exploration Corps use to clear the ground and sterilize the building site for their new colony.  Jarel, a young doctor on this mission, feels qualms about the plans to take over the planet and put the natives on a reservation.

The third society is “The Federation,” the culture of Elana, our main protagonist.  Elana is a young adult of late high school or early college age.  These people are so advanced as to think of the other two cultures as “Younglings.”  Elana was riding with her father, her fiance, and one other on a trip to a family reunion on their home planet.  When the Federation learned of the crisis on Andrecia, their ship was diverted to try to remedy the situation.  The catch is that those in the Interplanetary Service are sworn not to reveal the existence of their more advanced civilization to Youngling peoples.  So they must try to convince the Imperials to leave without revealing to the Imperials that their own culture has far surpassed anything the Imperials can do.  They have found that planets develop the best when they believe that theirs is the most advanced civilization around.  If the Federation revealed itself and forced the Imperials to leave, the Imperials would simply think they wanted Andrecia’s rich natural resources for themselves.

Elana impulsively stows away in the landing craft to get her first view of an alien world.  Within moments, a disaster changes all of their plans.  Elana is stuck on the planet, and her father crafts a new plan.  Elana will pose as an Enchantress, and show Georyn magic which he can use to fight the dragon.  Of course, first he must complete three tasks....

The set-up is captivating, but the writing is exquisite.  When the author tells the story from each different perspective, she changes her tone to match.  The sections narrated by Georyn read like a fairy tale, simple and mythic.  Jarel’s sections are science fiction, with ray guns and an alien planet.  As for Elana, her sections are those of a first-rate young adult novel.  Elana must grapple with huge questions, and sometimes acts too impulsively.  She quickly sees that there is far more to Georyn than his primitive culture.

I think this book would be perfect for reading to a high school class, because there are multitudinous topics for discussion.  All parts of the story, not simply the fairy-tale parts, have mythic elements.  The story is bigger than itself, having repercussions into many different areas, from the power of love to the problem of pain.  Not only is it complex enough to provide fertile ground for discussion for high schoolers, it’s simple enough that I think my 7-year-old will be captivated as well.

One word of warning--If you buy the 2001 edition, my advice is to save the Foreword by Lois Lowry until after you’ve read the book.  It gave away a little bit too much of the ending for me.

Other books by Sylvia Louise Engdahl:
The Far Side of Evil
Journey Between Worlds
Defender of the Flame
This Star Shall Abide
Children of the Star
Trilogy
This book on audio

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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