Off the Shelf

“A Spell For Chameleon”

By Marcus Pan

A Spell For ChameleonI needed a break into the old world again, so I went traipsing through Xanth! Somehow I actually managed to pull the first Xanth book from my pile of rhetoric in the cabinet. A Spell For Chameleon seems to be, as far as I can tell, the first novel that stepped away from Mundania and into this magical realm.

I’ve talked at length about Xanth before, so I’m not going to go into numerous details about the world at large as I already have. Instead I’m going to just discuss A Spell For Chameleon, which can be a bit confusing for the both of us. It’s hard to place this novel in the timeline of Xanth. Castle Roogna, for example, is at first find here a decrepit old castle ruins (though kept healthy by magic). Good Magician Humphrey is here and he is actually the only character I recognize from previous Xanth novels I’ve read.

The story follows a young man named Bink, who is a lost soul within Xanth for he seems to possess no magic. Everybody in Xanth has some kind of magical talent, as you hopefully remember, from the transformation abilities of Trent to the illusionary abilities of Iris. Everyone, that is, except poor Bink. The young lad is about to be twenty-five years old and if you can’t prove to the king that you have some magical talent – anything, really, from making someone’s ass grow hot to manifesting holes at your feet – you are exiled from Xanth to live in Mundania. Our world.

Bink’s travels begin as a trek to Humphrey’s castle where, for the price of one year’s service, you can ask the Good Magician – who’s talent lies with divination – any question and receive any answer. After a few exploits against dragons, shades, pretty dumb chicks and such Bink arrives at Humphrey’s to be told that while he does have magic – big magic – nobody can tell what it is. So off Bink goes home to the North Village where he is unable to demonstrate it and is sent packing.

En route he runs into Trent, one of three of Xanth’s most powerful magicians, just outside the shield border of Xanth. Trent was exiled twenty years hence for trying to be King. He’s trying to get back in now, and somehow makes it back with Bink’s help. Further travels, continued exploits, dead kings and old haunted castles resume the ride to the end of A Spell For Chameleon. The end result is a new king and queen for Xanth, a new wife, new job and discovery of his magical talent for Bink. I’d tell you what it is, but nobody’s supposed to know. Only Bink and King Trent do, and I shan’t ruin that arrangement!

It’s not a bad book. Piers always has a knack for interesting characters, places and twisting mundane things into magical fun. Like the last Xanth book I’ve read(1), he has a tendency to dwell on things very much and add too much teenager-ish bantering between characters who’s exception could have moved the novel along swifter. But it’s getting common to me by now, so it’s become an expected attribute to the writing of Piers Anthony that might actually affect his style if removed. It can get annoying though…Bink, like Dor, tends to act childish and think childishly. It wasn’t nearly as pronounced as the antics of Centaur Aisle however. The ending of the book was actually rather nice – if a bit expected. I particularly like Bink’s talent and the way it was with him all along, subtly manipulating things as he moved along. Quite ingenious really. A Spell For Chameleon is certainly not the best fantasy novel out there, but it’s not half bad for a bit of light reading in between somethings more serious.

“A Spell for Chameleon” by Piers Anthony
Cover Art by Michael Whelan
Copyright © 1977 by Piers Anthony
Published by Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0-345-28766-5
(1) Centaur Aisle, reviewed in Legends #147.

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