Lean Reviews

A review site for conservative, libertarian, center-right readers. We'll tell you what's good, what's bad, what's so-so, and what you'll like even if you have to stumble past liberal tropes to get to a good story

Young Adult Fiction: The Amaranth Enchantment

By Allie Duzett
Make no mistake: Julie Berry’s The Amaranth Enchantment (2010) is unique. Think Cinderella, but with aliens and a goat that thinks it’s a dog.

Orphan Lucinda Chapdelaine is working as a maid in her uncle’s goldsmithery when in the course of one day, she meets a mysterious witch (…alien!), a rude street thief, and the prince of Laurenz–and takes into her custody a strange stone with peculiar powers. When her uncle dies, she is tossed out on the streets, with nothing but the strange stone, which she decides to return to the witch who brought it to the goldsmithery for resetting–until she realizes the stone has been stolen. The story follows Lucinda as she attempts to reclaim the stone and get it to its proper owner. The story weaves every thread together: the thief and the prince, the orphan and the alien-witch, the lawyer-turned-Minister of Justice and the king and queen all have entwined fates.
The book was a fast read; at a little over 300 pages, it took me fewer than four hours. The story is fast-paced and moderately exciting, with a number of twists. Keeping up does take some suspension of disbelief–again, Cinderella with aliens–and several times I felt like the book jumped from one plot point to the next with barely enough time to register the last. Every story line and character connects up with others in the end, but without a lot of build-up, making the storyline seem contrived. Perhaps it would have been different had the characters discussed the idea of fate versus coincidence, but that idea seemed remarkably unaddressed in the book. The fact that every single person in the story was connected to everyone else seemed a little out of the blue. Still, I appreciate tight plotting.

The characters were fine but not necessarily memorable. As my teenage sister said when I asked her how she liked the book, “When I first finished it, I would have given it a 5 out of 5. But now that it’s been two weeks and I don’t remember any specifics, I guess I’d have to give it a 3.”

One politically interesting theme of the book was capital punishment. Over the course of the novel, the heroine receives a death sentence–and the real bad guy of the story notably does not receive a death sentence. This worked for me at first, because the bad guy happens to be an alien, and these aliens are immortal, unable to be killed.

However, when I went back through the book looking once again for the explanation for this, I stumbled across this line: “In your world, you have prisons for your little crimes, and gallows for your great ones. In our world, little crimes are few, and great ones almost none, but when they do happen, we would not kill the guilty even if we could. We send them away. Banish them.” Beryl the Alien-Witch goes on to explain that because the banished people are unwilling to leave, their banishment requires an innocent person to go with them, to ensure that they make it all the way to another world. “It’s horrible,” she says.

But what I thought was actually horrible was that this race of aliens would send their criminals to worlds like Lucinda’s, when the people of those other worlds had done nothing to deserve it. The Amaranth Enchantment showed how a wicked person (okay, alien) never changed: he was bad enough to be banished from his own world, but then all he did in his new world was wreak havoc there. The whole time I read the story, I was hoping Lucinda would find a way to kill the bad guy–as far as I could see it, the bad guy’s death was the only way her parents’ murder would find justice, and the only way the bad guy would stop destroying worlds.

Sadly, in the end the bad guy just ended up in some other world, and I presume he is still doing more damage there. The Amaranth Enchantment is a great reminder of the truth of criminal recidivism: criminals tend to relapse. Banishment or rehabilitation doesn’t seem to help. As evidence I point to the US Bureau of Justice, whose statistics show that around two out of three released prisoners relapse (that’s just counting the ones they catch). Examine the following, courtesy of the US BoJ:

  • Among nearly 300,000 prisoners released in 15 states in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years. A study of prisoners released in 1983 estimated 62.5%.
  • Of the 272,111 persons released from prisons in 15 states in 1994, an estimated 67.5% were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years, 46.9% were reconvicted, and 25.4% resentenced to prison for a new crime.
  • These offenders had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release.
  • Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%).

The Amaranth Enchantment realistically portrays a banished criminal who has not faced justice for his actions–as well as a world forced to cope with a criminal set free by arguably irresponsible citizens of his society.

To recap: the story is fast-paced and unique, and raises interesting political questions regarding capital punishment. It might sound like I didn’t enjoy the book, but actually I did. Will I re-read it? Probably not. Overall, I would give it three out of five stars–but that being said, I do recommend you give it a chance. It would be a good book to use to introduce a teen to the idea of the death penalty, as long as you discuss it with them afterward.

Allie Duzett used to work as a baker. It was fun, but she likes writing better.

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This entry was posted on July 31, 2012 by in Fiction, Young Adult and tagged , , , , , .

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