I don't think I've ever read anything by Piers Anthony and based on A Spell for Chameleon I don't think I ever will again.
This was the most vile, misogynistic piece of shit disguised as a fantasy novel. It blows Dragonflight out of the water when it comes to the horrible portrayal of women.
The plot revolves around an utter douchebag named Bink, who is magicless in a land of magic. At 25 he'll have to leave his country of Xanth for Mundania (yes, Mundania) because he has no magic and you can't be a citizen without magic. He gets exiled but is caught by the evil magician Trent who had been exiled 20 years before. Anyway, eventually Trent, Chameleon and Bink get back into Xanth from Mundania and have to work together to survive the magical forest. Everything is magical in some way or another in this place, so this type of journey is quite treacherous.
ANYWAY. Not that the plot matters because the entire time, you basically want Bink to die. He's supposed to be 25 but basically seems to have the mind of a 13 year old. He can't seem to concentrate except when he's evaluating women.
Here are some fun examples:
Bink looked at the girl beside him as she stepped through a slanting sunbeam. He was no plant but he too had needs, and even the most casual inspection of her made him aware of this.
This would be fine if it happened once. But it doesn't.
Would Sabrina turn shrewish after marriage? The idea made him uneasy.
'Alone?' She was still confused, though she was handling the path very well. Nothing wrong with her coordination! Bink found himself a bit surprised that those legs could actually be used for climbing and walking.
He had gulped down the first too fast to taste it. Maybe it was actually water, but it seemed to be perfect blue wine, the kind specified for dragon meat, full-bodied and delicately flavoured. Much like the Sorceress herself.
'The Trouble with dealing in illusion,' Humfrey said seriously, 'is that one begins to be deluded oneself. Iris doesn't need power half so much as she needs a good man.'
But that's not even the problem. Even if Bink went around judging everyone on their appearance and not being able to focus because there was a pretty girl in sight, that would have been fine. It would have just made him a boorish idiot. But the misogyny is best encapsulated by a soldier he meets named Crombie - which then Bink accepts as truth.
'Women are the curse of mankind,' Crombie said vehemently. 'They trap men into marriage, the way this tangle tree traps prey, and they torment them the rest of their lives.'
Then we get these sort of delightful lines:
It figured. She had said she wouldn't believe her reasons, and he had believed the first one, so she wouldn't tell him the other. Typically female logic.
A pretty girl could express shock and distress if someone saw her bare torseo, but privately she would be pleased if the reaction were favourable.
Bink was impressed again with her intelligence. Every time he caught her doing something stupid, it turned out to to be the opposite. She was ordinary, if ugly, girl, but she had a mind that functioned efficiently. She had plotted their escape from the pit, and their subsequent strategy, and it had nullified Trent's programme of conquest. Now she was it at it again. Too bad her appearance fell down.
Chameleon was named as such because she changed over the course of the month from ugly and smart to beautiful and stupid...
She needed to be free of the curse entirely. And even if she could be fixed permanently at the height of both beauty and brains, he would not trust her, for he had been betrayed by that type too. Sabrina - he choked off that memory. Yet even an ordinary girl could get pretty dull if she had no more than ordinary intelligence or magic...
She was growing lovelier by the hour. Her personality was not changing much, except as her diminishing intelligence caused her to be less complex, less suspicious. He liked that personality - and now, he had to admit, he liked her beauty, too. She was of Xanth, she was magic, she did not try to manipulate him for her private purposes - she was his type of girl.
Now Sabrina approached him. She was as lovely as he had ever seen her. 'Bink, I'm sorry about what happened before,' she said. 'But now that everything is cleared up...' She was like Chameleon in her beauty stage, and she was intelligent, too. A fit bride for almost any man. But Bink knew her now, too well. His talent had stopped him from marrying her - by keeping itself secret. Smart talent.
EVERYTIME Bink meets a woman, in any shape or form, it's a critical evaluation of her looks. Then about 100 pages through the book, the added bonus of some some scathing remark about how she can't be trusted because she's a woman. That women are devious.
I think what is never mentioned in the book is that Bink is no fucking prize. Even when he does figure out his talent and is considered 'a great magician.' He's a gormless asshat and why women liked him were beyond me. He was mostly an asshole. TO EVERYONE.
The thing that really took the cake was the 'rape trial' that took place early in the book. The judge basically says that 'oh well, love, you led him on and so I wouldn't be able to find him guilty.'
WHAT. what. Just. Fuck off Xanth. Fuck off. Just. I hate you.
So the book was written in the 1970s. What is depressing is that it won a British Fantasy Award in 1977. Fucking hell.
The writing is terrible, the characters stunted and mostly one dimensional. THE RAGING MISOGYNY. Predictable plot and just utter ridiculousness of what things are called. Mundania. FFS. Mundania.
So as you can imagine, it doesn't pass the test. But let's just go over this because well, that's the only thing I have to talk about in this review.
1: does it have at least 2 female characters
It does. It has a surprising amount of female characters, mainly so Bink can appraise their relative physical merits. Even harpies and centaurs.
2: is one of them a main character
Yes, surprising, the title character is female.
3: do they have an interesting profession/level of skill with male characters
This is where it all falls down. She doesn't. She doesn't even have a magical talent, she is magical (a distinction in the world). Everything is passive that happens to her and she can't change it. And then the ultimate irony is that because Bink thinks it's great, she gives up her quest to find her spell. Whatever. Even Iris, who is a great sorceress, is esentially dimwitted and easily coyed. It's just super depressing. Ugh.
DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. It's fucking awful. It gets 0 stars because it's probably damaging to boys and girls who read it. Fuck Xanth. Fuck the douchebag Bink. I wish he died horribly and slowly. That would have been a more uplifting read for 380 pages. I still would have sided with his torturers. I wish Chameleon would have realised that he was a massive shit head and hooked up with Trent instead. Fuck this book.