Book Review: A Spell for Chameleon

Book Name: A Spell for Chameleon
Author: Piers Anthony
First Published: 1977
August Derleth Award Winner 1978

Piers Anthony was a British immigrant who came to America with his parents at the tender age of six years. He was not a happy child, being bullied at school with parents that divorced. Anthony met his wife, Carol while both were attending Goddard College in Vermont. After several odd jobs, Anthony joined the army in order to support his pregnant wife. In the military, he became an editor and cartoonist for the battalion newspaper. During his time in the army, he became a naturalized US citizen. After a two-year tour of duty, he became a teacher at the Admiral Farragut Academy in Florida before he switched careers and became a full-time author.

During his start as a writer, Anthony and his wife made a bargain. If he could sell a piece of writing in one year, she would continue in her efforts to support the family. If he could not, he would give up writing forever. At the end of his first year, he did manage to get a short story published and the rest, as they say, is history.

Piers Anthony has gone on to write several series of books and has gained much success as a fantasy and science fiction author. His Xanth series, which spans 30 books, continues to be written with a new book added to the series almost every year.

“Now it was done. He was free of Xanth forever. Free to make his own life, without being ridiculed or mothered or tempted. Free to be himself. Bink put his face in his hands and cried.” ― Piers Anthony, A Spell for Chameleon

A Spell for Chameleon begins with the introduction of a young man named Bink. He has a problem. In a land where every human has a magical talent, he is one of the unfortunate few who does not. If a human of Xanth does not display a talent by their eighteenth birthday, they are thrown into exile into the non-magical realms, our world. Bink undertakes one last quest to discover if he has magic. To visit the Good Magician Humfrey, whose magical talent is that of information. If Humfrey can discover his talent, Bink can remain in Xanth and marry his sweetheart, Sabrina.

The quest takes Bink into the heart of the magical realm. He faces many dangers, but always at the last minute a coincidence saves his life. He meets several people along the way. A pair of Centaurs, Crombie the Soldier, and three young women. The first woman is Wynne, a stupid but beautiful girl and the second is Dee, an average girl without an apparent magical talent just like Bink. The final woman is Iris the sorceress who power is that of illusion. Iris is powerful enough to rule Xanth in her own right, but because she is female she was denied the throne and instead the Storm King rules.

Iris saves Bink from an illusion trap and makes him an offer. She will provide Bink with the illusion of powerful magic, allowing him to overthrow the Storm King and remain in Xanth. Then they would marry and Iris would rule as Queen. Bink turns her down and continues on his journey. He wants to marry Sabrina and does not trust the sorceress, fearing he would become her slave.

At last, Bink arrives at Magician Humfrey’s castle. He is tested by three challenges to gain entry. Humfrey determines that Bink not only has magic, but it is of magician-caliber. However, some power prevents the magician from determining what that magic is. He sends Bink home with a note stating that Bink has magic and should not be placed in exile.

Bink returns to North Village to show the note to the Storm King, but due to the King’s rivalry with Humfrey, the king ignores the note and orders Bink into exile. He crosses the magical shield that separates Xanth from Mundania (our world), leaving his parents and Sabrina behind forever. On the other side of the magical barrier, Bink is captured by the Evil Magician Trent, who had been exiled from Xanth twenty years previous for his attempt to overthrow the Storm King and rule in his place. Trent wishes to know where the source of magic is in Xanth so he can toss a magic nullifying potion on it and allow his troops through the magical barrier. Bink refuses to help Trent and is thrown into the pit with Fanchon, an ugly woman, but one with a superior intelligence.

What Bink does not realize is that he has met Fanchon before. She is known as Chameleon, a woman who changes appearance and intelligence with the phases of the moon. Wynne and Dee were the other two phases of the three that Chameleon morphs into. Chameleon is in love with Bink and had followed him to Humfrey’s castle. The good magician advised her to go to Mundania where the lack of magic would allow her to settle into her middle phase of Dee. On learning that Bink was to be exiled, she thought that perhaps they could create a life together. For no man has ever wanted her due to her extreme shifts, but as average woman Dee in Mundania, she feels that she might have a last chance for happiness.

Bink and Fanchon escape to sea, due to Fanchon’s incredible intelligence, but are pursued by Trent’s men. Eventually, Bink, Trent, and Fanchon are all swept back into Xanth via a whirlpool but Trent’s forces are left behind. The three get to know one another and Bink discovers that he likes Trent and finds that his time in Mundania has matured the young hothead that tried to take over the kingdom.

They meet up with Sorceress Iris once more and this time, Iris offers herself to Trent, hoping that they would become the next King and Queen of Xanth. Bink tries to stop them by challenging Trent to a duel of magic. During the duel, Bink’s particular form of magic is revealed. In a final thrust of using physical force against Bink, Chameleon puts herself in front of the man she loves and saves his life. This stops the duel and the group bands together once more in order to save Chameleon’s life.

Will Chameleon live and win Bink’s heart over that of his old flame Sabrina? Will Trent and Iris overthrow the Storm King and rule Xanth together? Will Trent find the source of magic and be able to destroy it to allow his troops into the magical realm? You will need to read the book to find out.

A Spell For Chameleon Book Cover

I first read A Spell For Chameleon when I was very young and the book was first in print. I was delighted by the world building, a magical land where groan-worthy puns were alive in a fantastical natural environment.

I loved the three main characters: Chameleon, Bink, and Trent. Each was quirky, intelligent and straightforward. I was fascinated by Chameleon and the concept of a woman who changed with the phase of the moon and by Bink, a young and handsome man with refreshing flaws that made him likable. Trent, while portrayed as “evil” also was relatable and in the end, I found myself rooting for both him and Iris.

The novel is a first of a very long series of Xanth novels, of which Mr. Anthony seems to produce a new one once a year for the most part. I have not read the entire series because I feel the quality of the books begins to deteriorate after the fourth or fifth book. The first three are fun and worth the read if you enjoy fantasy novels. This one and its sequel, The Source of Magic, are my two favorites. I feel that both books are worth looking into, but I would not necessarily give them to children due to the sexual overtones of the stories and the sexism that is portrayed as “normal behavior”. The sexism does make the novel somewhat dated, but I would not necessarily skip the book for that issue. Xanth is a world that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

Early Xanth Series:
A Spell for Chameleon
The Source of Magic
Castle Roogna
Centaur Aisle
Ogre, Ogre

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: A Spell for Chameleon”

  1. Besides liking the “evil” magicians name, I liked the the first few books. I haven’t read any in decades, but I think I read about 4 more than you. Totally unforgettable. I do have to say, though, that after the first one (my favorite) I liked Ogre, Ogre the best. Yes, it had all the stupid formulas the books devolved into, but the story and characters were interesting.

    1. I included Orge, Orge for that reason. I also liked it, but it is not as strong as the first few original books. There are some people that love all the Xanth books. I think it is a matter of taste. 🙂

      1. Like you after the first fewI grew tired of them, but they are very quick reads so I kept going even after I didn’t really care for them. I forget where I stopped. I know I read the nightmare one and possibly one or two after that.

  2. Oh dear, if you say they deteriorate around book #4-5… I just began The Source of Magic (#2) and it feels too… informal, for lack of better words at the moment. The story is interesting, but it reads too episodic. I feel like I’m watching season 2 of Xanth. Bink is too snarky and the sexual overtones are pretty strong in this book. The Xanth setting is clever and colorful, but it’s beginning to feel a little too forceful.

    But I will press on until I can’t take it anymore! Because despite my few peeves, he is a great writer and the stories are fun. Have you read the entire series?

    1. I’ve read the series up to about the ninth or tenth book. However, the first four or five were better and then they became repetitious. However, there are people that LOVE Xanth and have read all 30+ books in the series and keep coming back for more. It depends on you. I’m glad that you gave the first two a try. I feel that they are the best and it does give you a good flavor of Xanth, a universe you should visit at least once. 🙂

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