To start, here's the description of the book from Amazon:
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....
From that summary (well, the similar one on the back cover of the book) and the glowing recommendations of my friends about how much I'd enjoy the Xanth books since I love fantasy and humor, I cheerfully began to read A Spell for Chameleon, the first in the series. That cheerfulness, however, didn't last more than a few pages in. Alas, my friends were mistaken.
This book had the potential to be something I should have loved: an interesting storyline, a novel kind of magic, puns and humor... but all that could not make up for the sheer misogyny that was continuous from start to finish. I know the book was written in the 70's by a male author and I could have forgiven this if it was at all in moderation, but it wasn't so I can't.
Pretty much from the moment we meet Bink I wanted to shake some sense into that fool head of his- or possibly give him some sort of potion that would invoke maturity, since this is a magic world he exists in, so why the heck not? He was supposedly twenty-five, but that's a laugh. He acted more like fifteen: an immature, sex-crazed teenager, not the adult he should have been. (Why the author didn't just make him a teenager, I have no idea.) By the time he's placed into serving on a rape trial (this is within the first fifty pages) that was nothing but a farce, sitting across from a girl we keep hearing is gorgeous and we get the wonderful passage "Bink felt sorry for his opposite. How could she avoid being seductive? She was a creature constructed for no other viable purpose than ra- than love" I wanted to shove the sex-crazed boy off the edge of that chasm he'd so recently encountered.
If this had been it, I could have gotten past the sexism, but no. The entire book is in this vein. Despite the fact that Bink is clearly disturbed by the idea of humans mating with the intelligent animals, as we learn from him later in the book, even the female centaur becomes little more than a sex object to ogle (and fondle). The only time we get a halfway decently portrayed female character, we learn that she's actually a facet of two other characters- the hideous one that's super-intelligent, but so ugly that the protagonist won't stop talking about that fact, and the gorgeous one that he wanted to ravish because she's so gorgeous. And does that character stay in one of her more intelligent facets for long? Of course not; the narration instead switches to where she's pretty and stupid while Bink constantly laments his woes about needing to find a perfect woman (even her “normal” side of normal intelligence and normal appearance wouldn't be enough and he'd get bored of that). Eventually he decides that he likes the fact that she shifts from week to week, but does so when- surprise- she's in the moronic/beautiful side. There's far more about this book that irked me, but I'll leave it at that rather than continue to rant.
I am wondering what exactly the target audience of this book might be. It seems to be Young Adult (the youthfulness of the protagonist can attest to that) but there are a lot of things in there too mature for a book in that age group, not to mention the rather large words used throughout. It's as though the author went crazy with a thesaurus, which is actually fine with me as I love words, but seemed out of place in a YA-type book.
The only thing that got me through to the end of the book was that fact that I liked all of one character. I found the “evil” magician Trent to be the only truly likeable and interesting one; a villain who wasn't very villainous. He had depth that the others did not and his questionable alignment intrigued me (sorry, D&D term, but I couldn't help thinking “Chaotic Neutral” when reading this; in it for himself, whatever the consequences, but almost good at heart). It was too bad that he wasn't the actual main character. If the narration had been from his point of view, I would have enjoyed the book because... well, he wasn't Bink.
I used to pride myself on being able to read and enjoy pretty much anything, but I may have to revoke that claim. The constant misogyny in this book has left such a sour taste in my mouth that I don't think I'd want to read anything else by this author. I'm going to give this book 1 1/2 stars: partly for the basic plot and partly for Trent, I suppose, but I'm almost thinking that's too high of a rating. As an adult woman reading this book in 2011, I am clearly not whatever the target audience was originally intended to be, which is odd when the series had been recommended to me by other adult women. Either I'm missing the appeal, misogyny and annoying gender stereotypes bother me much more than they do anyone else, or this book is just more terribly written than the rest and I should have started at the end of the series where they say it's better and worked my way back. Probably a combination of the three, but I'm moving on to the next author. I don't want to read more of the same until I get to something in the series I might actually like, not when there are so many authors out there who won't make me want to throw their book across the room in disgust. I apologize to those who love this series, but this is most definitely not my cup of tea.