Thursday, November 17, 2022

Enchanted Paradise by Johanna Hailey


ENCHANTED PARADISE has been on my to-read list for a while ever since I saw it featured on a blog celebrating beautiful covers. It was like something out of a Lisa Frank-themed porno shoot and I knew I had to have it. But at the time, copies of it were prohibitively expensive and I despaired of every getting a copy of it, just like the other two books on my wishlist: STORMFIRE and THE SILVER DEVIL.

Then, I ended up getting a copy of it in a lot of books I had purchased in bulk! But tragedy of tragedies: my copy was badly water-damaged and infected with spots of blue mold. The beautiful Pino Daeni cover was also scratched and creased. I wanted to cry. Since I don't keep moldy books in the house, I stored it outside, where I've been reading it ever since. Because even though my copy wasn't safe to keep (*sob* *sniff* *sob*), I really did want to find out what happened.

This book-- it's so bad it's good. Some books are bad-bad, but reading this book made me nostalgic for all the trashy fantasy books I read as a kid. Books about faeries and unicorns and gnomes, where the good people are always good and the bad people are always bad. The book starts out with two elves witnessing the murder of a beautiful woman with a newborn at the hands of dark knights. The baby is rescued by the elves and raised at their own, and they name her Anduan, which means foundling.

Anduan, now eighteen, meets a hot dude in the woods in a naked bathing meet-cute. They bang before page fifty, and spend a couple weeks fucking, enough time to learn his language. That's when she finds out that he's in the employ of an evil sorceress and comes from a land named Tor. His name is Frayne and he's a knight (an evil knight? HMMMM) searching for a unicorn horn. The elves don't want him tramping around and ruining their shit, so Anduan-- who renames herself Aurora-- tasks herself with leading him to the unicorn, since being raised by elves means that she knows the old tongue.

It's worth noting that this is book one in a trilogy and it's mostly all set-up. There's no real satisfying conclusion or HEA. Imagine picking this up in the '80s and finding out that you don't even get a solid ending. I'd be so pissed lmao. This book is also purple-prosey as fuck. Similar authors are Rebecca Brandewyne and Bertrice Small, except, you know, this is way less WTFy. Actually, it's surprisingly woke for the time. Anduan/Aurora is raised by these elves that seem to be coded as lesbians. So she literally has two moms. Also the elves are funny. There's these things called Droonish curses, and when the sorceress's baddies track Frayne to the glade, one of the elves, Gleb, curses one of them to have a mare's backside and the other, a stallion's tool. Also they're horny. OHHHHH SHIT.

The rest of the adventure is a little slow-going with Frayne and Aurora bickering back and forth, but Aurora takes care of herself and does a lot of the rescuing. It was actually pretty refreshing to read a book where the hero is the one who repeatedly gets his ass hauled out of danger. My favorite part of the book was when they go to a place called "Krim's Keep," which is a sinister castle lorded over by an evil wizard who wants to bang the heroine. He sends his grandson, Crane, to try to fuck her while wearing the face of the hero, Frayne, but she only just barely sees through his disguise. It's a castle filled with illusions, and a monster that's part jaguar called the Asgeroth haunts the halls. Holy shit did this part ever feel gothic as fuck, and you can bet I loved every second of it.

After they escape, they encounter a mostly tribe of naked would-be-total-racist-stereotypes-if-they-weren't-blonde-and-white warrior people called the Shintari. Where, YOU GUESSED IT, the king wants to bang the heroine. But his jealous incest wife wants to bang the king, and she calls blasphemy, so it requires judgment from a god to determine whether she gets to live. And THEN they have a run-in with a vampire who YOU GUESSED IT, wants to fuck the heroine. And drink her blood. After that, they run into a bunch of asshole gnomes who lead them to a bunch of flesh-eating giants. And then...


So overall, I have to say that I did a lot of skimming. The purple prose is about a 9/10. I also didn't really feel the chemistry between the hero and heroine. He's one of those cold and icy dudes who says things like "little fool" and constantly treats her mean to keep her keen. But I also felt like there was something else going on beneath the surface. It almost made me think of The Snow Queen, which makes me wonder if maybe his sorceress has put a spell on his heart to keep him loyal. That's my theory, anyway. Aurora was also a pretty strong heroine. Was she a Mary Sue? Yes. But she was a Mary Sue who didn't take any shit and owned her sexuality, and the talking with animals thing was cool. I also liked that she was illiterate and that learning to read became her goal at the end of the book, so she could learn more spells and knowledge and stuff.

I made fun of this book for all 525 pages, but I already ordered books two and three so I guess that makes me a clown. If there were more dark and creepy moments like the evil castle and the vampire of the hot spring, I probably would have given this a four. Especially if there were some decent sexual tension.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

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