fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsA Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony fantasy book reviewsA Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony

You know that delighted little feeling you get when a package arrives on your doorstep? And with how excited you are, you just can’t wait to unbox whatever it is? Imagine you’ve just received a mysterious package, perhaps one you’ve been anticipating for a long time. Except, you’re so thrilled that you forget to check the name on the shipping label… and when you open it up, it’s not for you… Whoops.

You see, I’d heard so many things about Piers Anthony’s XANTH series, and as far as I was concerned, its popularity virtually guaranteed that A Spell for Chameleon, the opening novel of the series, would be spectacular… right? Wrong. In fact, just about every aspect of this book rubbed me the wrong way, and I really felt as if the novel I had just finished couldn’t possibly be the same as the one being praised.

Let’s start with the basic premises: our protagonist Bink, age twenty-four, lives in the magical land of Xanth where all citizens possess an innate magical ability. Everyone has one, whether it’s as mundane as making pink spots appear on a wall or as spectacular as generating lifelike illusions; that is, everyone except Bink. So Bink begins his quest to discover his magical talent, because he will be exiled from Xanth into “Mundania” if he doesn’t uncover it before his twenty-fifth birthday. Though the premise of the plot doesn’t seem atrocious, the devil is truly in the details.

Throughout A Spell for Chameleon, Anthony peppers us with an almost shameful amount of banality and terrible puns. The setting is an alternate Florida in which every living organism is magical; the wild oats are truly “wild,” and when Bink tries to plant some, they “fought him savagely.” The needle cacti are hostile beings which shoot painfully sharp needles at all who come near, and there’s even a character named “Justin Tree,” a former magician named Justin who was turned into a tree. As the novel progresses, the puns just seem to get worse and worse:Xanth series by Piers Anthony

Bianca certainly knew how to make a sandwich. Roland always teased her about that, claiming she had mastered the art under the tutelage of an old sand-witch.

After a certain point, the light and humorous tone Anthony was trying for just didn’t manifest — I simply couldn’t get over how bad the jokes were.

And then there was the misogyny present throughout the novel. The most blatantly sexist attitude came from Corporal Crombie, who noted that “women are the curse of mankind,” but numerous other characters displayed similar mindsets. One of the most irritating episodes for me was when [HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER] Bink is exiled from Xanth after failing to display his magical talent, and his erstwhile girlfriend Sabrina refuses to follow him into exile. [END SPOILER] Bink immediately decides that Sabrina “cared more about appearances than reality” and begins a two-page rant about how shallow and useless women are. Not only does this make Bink seem quite immature, but it also contributed to his lack of depth. In fact, most of the characters in A Spell for Chameleon were very shallow and displayed stunning shortages of complexity, a fact compounded by the simplistic dialogue and style.

All in all, A Spell for Chameleon simply didn’t cut it for me, and neither did its sequel The Source of Magic. Every time I turned a page, it just felt as if the story was gradually falling apart. While I do understand that most avid fantasy fans do come across the XANTH series in their early youth, I also feel the need to question whether the values espoused here by Anthony are the ones we wish to instill in the next generation. So I say of A Spell for Chameleon, to readers of all ages: stay away.

~Kevin Wei

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers AnthonyBink is a teenage boy without magic who lives in a land where everybody else has some particular magic spell they can cast. Bink must go on a quest to discover what his power is before he is exiled from his beloved homeland.

I read A Spell for Chameleon about 20 years ago and I hated it. In fact, I couldn’t even get past the midpoint. The book was juvenile, silly, and often disgusting. Actually, the best word is puerile. It’s most likely to be enjoyed by a 12 or 13 year old boy. A Spell for Chameleon is full of objectification of girls and, worst of all, the stupidest puns I’ve ever read.

The XANTH series is very popular, but I just couldn’t stand it.

~Kat Hooper

Xanth — Began in 1977. 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 Humpfrey, 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…


  • Kevin Wei

    KEVIN WEI, with us since December 2014, is political/digital strategist based in Harlem. Secretly, Kevin has always believed in dragons. Not the Smaug kind of dragon, only the friendly ones that invite you in for tea (Funke’s Dragon Rider was the story that mercilessly hauled him into the depths of SF/F at the ripe old age of 5). Kevin loves epic fantasy, military SF/F, New Weird, and some historical fantasy; some of his favorite authors include Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Django Wexler, and Joe Abercrombie. In his view, a good book requires not only a good character set and storyline, but also beautiful prose — he's extremely particular about this last bit. You can find him at:

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  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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