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The Limits of Enchantment: A Novel (Gollancz SF S.) by Graham Joyce
Review by John Berlyne
Gollancz Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0575072318
Date: 20 January, 2005 List Price £12.9 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

I find myself strongly drawn to the work of Graham Joyce. He's one of the more sensitive voices in genre fiction - a writer whose work focuses far more on the characters that populate his stories than the elements of the fantastic. Indeed, such elements, though always necessary in the telling, are ever subtly and expertly underplayed and Joyce has shown throughout his career that he's truly comfortable writing from almost any character point of view. Without doubt, he?s one of our most technically accomplished authors. His novels always achieve the perfect balance between character and situation and we always care about what happens to whom.

The Limits of Enchantment is yet another virtuoso display by Graham Joyce. It opens with a depiction of childbirth, a scene that introduces us to Mammy, a midwife who in the practice of her art has seen far more than one generation into the world. What's so artful about the solid presence of this character is that for quite a number of pages Joyce gives us few clues as to period or setting. The effect is to remind us that this scene is old history, that wise women like Mammy have been delivering us into the world for countless centuries.

When Joyce does reveal the time in which The Limits of Enchantment takes place, his choice is a brilliant one, and one that fuels the passions of the story. It is a time when regulation and modernity are encroaching on a way of life that has been present here for longer than anyone can remember. Midwives must now be regulated and affiliated, must wear the starched uniforms of qualified nurses and must follow the rules laid down by remote authoritarian bodies. Those such as Mammy, whose work is steeped in superstition and instinctive know-how, and whose medicine cabinet is the fields and flowerbeds are becoming marginalized and obsolete - and worse, for they are warily viewed with suspicion.

Mammy though is an old lady coming towards the end of her time and it is her adopted daughter, Fern, who must find some way to take the ancient knowledge into the new times. When the old lady finally passes on, Fern realizes quite how isolated and unworldly she is. She's only ever known Mammy and Mammy's ways and she is thoroughly unequipped to deal with the realities of modern life.

The Limits of Enchantment is therefore a story of old secrets and old knowledge and of the collisions that occur as times marches on. As ever in Joyce?s work, the mystical is held back from the reader, never explicitly alluded to but is instead an ever present undercurrent to the actions of the characters. And, as ever, Joyce effortlessly makes us care enormously about what happens to his characters.

A wonderful novel. Highly recommended.

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