Friday, April 11, 2008

Shanna Swendson

Enchanted, Inc.
by Shanna Swendson
Recommended Age: 14+

A number of people have written to me saying that I have the best job in the world: writing book reviews for MuggleNet. I agree with all my heart. The job has many perks. Mainly, I get to read, read, read, which is better than TV, and also guilt-free, because it’s not just to please me but also to share with all of you. And you have all been very kind to me with your feedback and ideas for what to read next. Plus, several authors googled themselves and discovered my reviews of their books. Imagine my star-struck awe and jubilation when the actual authors of books I had reviewed (who are almost like supernatural beings to me) began shooting me e-mails thanking me for my enthusiastic reviews of their work. And now, at last, the ultimate perk of being "Robbie the Book Trolley Guy" has begun to appear. Several authors, all at once, have volunteered out of the bonny blue to send me preview copies and/or free hardcovers of their books so that I can review them before they are even released!

Now the guilty admission, maybe. I had never heard of Shanna Swendson until she asked me to review her new book, Enchanted, Inc. But it didn’t seem to be an actual grimoire (as in a certain offer that I turned down), so who am I to pass up a free book? Well, now that I have read it, I see that it is a book I would gladly buy for myself, and I can think of a couple friends (girls mainly) who might get it as a gift next Christmas.

Observe the age suggestion. That means this is not really a kiddie book, but it isn’t so adult that I would necessarily blush to catch my teenage niece, daughter, etc., reading it. Nothing smutty or (very) foul-mouthed or anything. But it isn’t about children, or particularly for children. It’s about twenty- or thirty-somethings in New York City. Career people, with career problems, dating problems, adult crushes, and all sorts of daily responsibilities on their mind that kids never think about. Yet at the same time, it’s magical, it’s weird, it’s occasionally scary, and it has at least one belly-laugh per chapter.

In her note that came with my autographed copy of the book (you really want to be me, don’t you?), Shanna Swendson writes, “The book is sort of marketed in a ‘girly’ way, but it’s still essentially fantasy.” The author also describes herself as “your basic adult version of Hermione,” while the book’s cover describes itself as “Hex and the City...” In varying ways you could view these statements as examples of marketing, which is one of the specialties of the book’s heroine, Katie Chandler.

Katie is a Texas girl with a BBA, who has come to New York City to take a shot at the world of big business... bigger, at least, than her parents’ feed-and-seed store. She lives with two of her oldest friends, walks to work because she can’t afford the subway, works for the boss from hell, and rarely makes it to a second date with a guy because she is too “girl next door” or “little sister.” Perhaps the biggest sign that she isn’t cut out for the Big Apple is the fact that, even after a year in the city, she is still struck by the strangeness of things that other people don’t seem to notice at all. Things like a gargoyle that is sometimes on one building, sometimes on another... people walking around with their feet a few inches off the ground, wearing fairy wings that don’t seem to be strapped on...a not-very-attractive man who has every woman in sight groveling at his feet...and another man who seems to summon a subway train with a flick of his wrist.

Fortunately, by the time Katie can’t take her horrid boss any longer, she has a new and better job offer AND the beginning of an explanation for all the weirdness around her. You see, the people offering her the job claim that magic is real, and the reason they need Katie to work for them is that she doesn’t have any magic in her at all. That’s why she can see things no one else can see. Most people have at least a little magic, enough to make them susceptible to illusions and spells. But Katie is one of the few who are totally immune to magic. This explains why only she could see the moving gargoyle (who is actually a security guard named Sam), the fairies and elves, and even some things that wizards can’t see. That’s why the wizards need Katie and others like her. They need a “reality check” to make sure their magical clients don’t try to use illusions and glamours to hide clauses in contracts, to cheat on their inventory reports, or to sell products that aren’t what they seem.

So Katie accepts the job at MSI (Magic, Spells, and Illusions), Inc. She can’t tell her friends about it, which is the only hard part. Otherwise, she finds herself at home in a world of ogres, charms, and curses remarkably fast. But she has come to MSI just in time for a major crisis – a problem so big, the company had to bring its founder Merlin (yes, he of the crystal cave) out of retirement. An evil competitor is trying to push harmful spells on the market, some of them untested and unsafe, and all of them evil. There’s a real potential for a magical war here. And who is on the front line to stop it? Well, besides a VERY old man who is a thousand years out of time, a frighteningly powerful (but also charmingly shy) R&D stud, and a really confused corporate lawyer... there’s Katie!

Ordinary Katie, with the Texas drawl that slips out when she’s under pressure. Katie with a hopeless crush on her co-worker, and a stalker who (until she kissed him) was a frog. Katie, with her hilarious, vivid, and real voice, filled with literary and pop-culture references, proves that she belongs to my generation. Brave, funny Katie, whose blend of marketing savvy, bad dating karma, and home-grown common sense make her an enchantingly unusual heroine for a romantic comedy about office politics, big business, urban life, and other kinds of magic.

I am glad Shanna Swendson sent me her sixth published book for free. Though I may not get into the “category romance novels (as Samantha Carter)” that she has written before, I look forward to paying full-price for her next book about Katie, her friends, and a city that we all knew was weird (only we didn’t know HOW weird). Her magical world is closer to our world than that of Harry Potter – in fact, Harry Potter gets mentioned a couple of times – but it is also a world in which amazing things can happen, amazing creatures thrive, and an amazing amount of fun can be generated out of a day at the office and a night on the town.

Plus, if you’re a single young female in New York City, you can learn something from this book: the pond in Central Park is a good place to look for frog princes... but then again, there may be a REASON they were turned into frogs!

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