Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: A Spell for Chameleon [the first Xanth novel] by Piers Anthony

A Spell for Chameleon (The First Xanth Novel) by Piers Anthony
Pages: 344
Published by Random House Publishing, 1977
Borrowed from Andra Lyn of the Unabridged Andra Lyn

Goodreads Description:
Xanth was the enchanted land where magic ruled--where every citizen had a special spell only he could cast. That is, except for Bink of North Village. He was sure he possessed no magic, and knew that if he didn't find some soon, he would be exiled. According to the Good Magician Humfrey, the charts said that Bink was as powerful as the King or even the Evil Magician Trent. Unfortunately, no one could determine its form. Meanwhile, Bink was in despair. If he didn't find his magic soon, he would be forced to leave...

My Review:
I think the first thing I need to say about this book is that I have never read anything like it before. It’s really, just…WOW. I loved it.

Readers are thrust into the world of Xanth – a magical and dangerous world. It’s especially dangerous if you don’t have any magic, which is exactly Bink’s problem. Uh-oh. Bink (and you reading it) is obviously quite anxious about his lack of magical ability. Not only is Bink’s life in Xanth miserable due to the dangerous teasing of some of his peers, but also if he doesn’t prove his magical ability by his 25th birthday he gets exiled. You read correctly, exiled. Bink must cross the protective shield of Xanth into the non-magical world of Mundania. To prevent this from happening, Bink starts an incredibly dangerous journey to visit the good magician Humfrey. Humfrey may be able to tell Bink what his magic ability really is. The only problem is getting there isn’t easy when every part of nature is designed to attack you. Bink must be careful not to stand to close to a tangle tree lest he get strangled to death, or drink from a magic spring lest he be transformed into a fish forever. Really, there are a lot of ways to die in Xanth, but Bink manages to get to Humfrey’s castle in one piece. As it turns out, Bink does have magic, powerful magic, but since he can’t prove it to the king he is exiled to Mundania. Bink’s loyalty and fight for Xanth never stops even after his exile. The dangers of Xanth continue outside his exile. Bink really needs to discover his magic talent if he wants to protect his country, but can he?

Piers Anthony has crafted something incredibly witty. The first Xanth novel is nothing short of amazing. His writing is comical and even a bit ridiculous at times. Anthony’s wit made this book the most enjoyable. It is not your average hero on a quest story, although it resembles it nicely. The puns really make this novel.

The characters are like nothing I have read before. This novel may look like a hero on a quest story, but often the hero is undefined. When Bink has to defend his beloved country against a seemingly evil power, the protagonist becomes confused--is it Bink, is it the supposed evil force he his preventing, or could it even be some hidden magic that is putting everything in its place. I think Anthony’s confusion of good and evil was central to this book. There are many things going on beneath the surface of this book that makes me want to even read it again right now. I’m not certain how Anthony intended readers to interpret this however, especially among such comical writing. This may represent a problem, or perhaps I a missing the point. I’d actually really like to develop my thoughts on this aspect of the novel a bit. Have you read it? What do you think of the blurring of good and evil?

Something I read a lot of in other reviews was Anthony’s sexist nature. I did notice that the novel lacked a true feminine hero. However, this really did not disturb my reading at all. Agreed, his failure to understand women was a flaw of his. However, this particular detail did not ruin the novel for me. I think there are a lot of redeeming qualities to this book. On that note, I would love to discuss these thoughts further. There just is not enough room here to say all that I would like to, so leave a comment and I’d be happy to chat about this issue sensitively.

One more thing, the magic in this book is everywhere. EVERYWHERE! Really, I was enthralled. If you like magic read this book. There is your traditional magic such as basilisks, dragons, and harpies. But then, Anthony gets creative and invents magic in unlikely ways; there are fabric plants which produce clothes to wear, grass that binds you in your sleep and devours you, and even the dreaded wiggles that cause catastrophe by zapping invisibly from one place to the next and impaling anything in their way. There is so much magic in this book, it’s like the book itself is magic.

There is so much to love about this book. I can’t wait to check out the rest of the series.

I give this book a four out of five foxes. It follows all the traditions of magic and quest, but then twists them slightly in places for a comical and even satirical effect. This is a magical book and I am hoping the rest of the series is just as magical. I was initially confused by the blurring of good and evil in the novel, but am convinced it is part of Anthony’s scheme to redefine the protagonist and to question interpretations of what is power. Also, the issue of sexism really can’t be ignored. While I don’t find it a severe flaw to the reading of this novel, it had its moments of abrupt crudeness.  I hope you will check out this novel and tell me your thoughts. There really is a lot going on in this novel, and it is definitely worth reading.


  1. Great review! Sounds like an interesting book. Sexism, though? That might bother me lol.


    1. Hey Sam. It was definitely an interesting book. I would recommend it if your kind of humor involves a lot of puns. As for the sexism, I wasn't really bothered by it. I didn't think it overwhelmed the book or made it any less appealing. I don't want to be insensitive to those who really were bothered by it though; it is a choice you just have to make on your own i guess. If sexism really bothers you then perhaps this book is not for you.

      thanks for the comment!

  2. Wonderful review, this one sounds very interesting! I loved reading your review and it's really made me want to seek this one out. Hope my library has it!

    New to your blog,
    Steph @ Stepping Out of the Page

    1. Thanks so much! I appreciate your comment. If you liked my review, you should definitely check out this novel. I found it really funny, but it's a more subtle humor.

      If you do read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!


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