This book review is for novelists. If you simply have love a reading, John Grant does an excellent review on Infinity Plus.
Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl is an extraordinary Young Adult novel—an entertaining, thought-provoking story and a fine technical achievement. The novel itself encompasses not one or two genres—but three, one for each point of view. From the forward by Lois Lowry:
“How rich a literary landscape is the one that enables the reader to enter several worlds and make a home in each.”
Reviewers throughout the decades have attempted to define this gem as a blend of science fiction and fantasy. This, perhaps, is an incorrect interpretation of the novel. Enchantress from the Stars is a book that deftly switches between three points of view: Elana, the daughter of a field agent from an advanced galactic civilization, Jarel, a medical officer from a space faring race and Georyn, the youngest son of a woodcutter whose life is turned upside-down when the Dragon invades the Enchanted Forest.
The plot is thus: A space-faring race has invaded a planet where the inhabitants are in a primitive, medieval state. They go about clearing their landing site of their future colony with little thought to the impact of the people already there. The Dragon is a mechanical demolition machine, but to the natives it is a fearsome beast. Above both these two peoples, Elana, her fiancé and her father must try to save the primitive civilization, but they must do so in a way as to not interfere with the cultural advancement of the colonists. Simply, without a doubt, a marvelous bit of plotting.
One point of view in the book comes from Georyn, and as such is “fantasy.” The other point of view is from Jarel, and could be classified as “science fiction.” The third point of view, and the most important, comes from Elana, and is, in my humble opinion, visionary fiction. The three genres come together in a rapturous conclusion that is both harrowing, contemplative and finally, bittersweet. If you do not become misty-eyed, or at the least wistful at the conclusion of the book, then you heart is hardened to the likes of love gained and love lost in sacrifice for a noble purpose.
As a writer this technical achievement deserves your study, for Engdahl carries it with finesse and a unique style that has stood the test of time and is without peer. That is only the half of the reason I recommend this novel.
You will never find me disparaging the Young Adult novels that have reached a resounding success yet never come near the thoughtfulness offered by Engdahl. How many new-writer doors have opened because of Rowling and Meyer? Not just from a commercial perspective, but simply from an audience-building standpoint. This week, there is agent calling her client with a book deal that never would have seen the light of day without the expansion of the teen market. No matter how much the protagonist personally grates on one’s nerves, we owe that literary vampiric mouse of a girl a debt. Would the reprints of Enchantress from the Stars be possible if Harry Potter only existed in an Edinburgh coffee shop? It is not for me to say, but the influence of Rowling’s speculative work on publishers is as obvious as the sun rising each morning.
This is the heart of my review. There is, in my mind, the achievement of this novel from 1970 and the commercial success of the contemporary mega author. Like a greedy child, I want both. I demand both. I want novels that meet the standards presented by Engdahl, while commercially fulfilling the dreams of agents and publishers because their audience is legion.
Enchantress from the Stars explores personal ethics and morality and presents a cosmos that demands personal sacrifice not just for the good of who we know, but also for a greater purpose beyond our immediate universe. The personal growth of Elana through her great efforts, sacrifice and loss was awe-inspiring as it was a heartbreaking journey to behold. I could go on and on about the little gems inside this book, such as the psychological insights offered to the reader on human nature and matters of the heart. Nevertheless, I will not for that is not my purpose in writing this review. What I will do is toss down a literary gauntlet.
Dear writers, this is my challenge to you. If you are a fantasy author, there is much to learn from Enchantress from the Stars in the creation of legend and myth and the personal trials of the human spirit filled with curiosity. As science fiction, it is a wondrous universe filled with more questions than answers. As a Young Adult novel, it is, simply, without equal. Read this novel and then read your work in progress, and attempt to rise to a higher measure.
Firebird reprinted Enchantress from the Stars in paperback. I encourage you, however, to order the signed hardcover edition published by Walker, and send the author a note thanking her for her efforts. If you already have a copy, blow the dust off it. Enter once more a universe that does not talk down to you, assumes you can handle characters that grow and wonder despite hardship and love lost, and, ultimately, expands your mind to new horizons.