The Source of Magic, by Piers Anthony
Rating: about as weak as the previous book [update: read my update on A Spell For Chameleon]
About a year after A Spell for Chameleon, Bink has managed to forget his “lesson” of appreciating his wife. He and his friends, all having marital troubles, are sent on a perilous quest by King Trent to discover the source of magic. After journeying to the bottom of the earth below Mundania, they discover that the source of magic is actually a demon named X(A/N)^th (whose counterparts are named E(A/R)^th, D(E/A)^th, etc) that has been imprisoned in place for the last eon. Having learned alot about his integrity, Bink’s convictions force him to free the demon (who would be free in about 100 years anyway) and immediately removes all magic from Xanth. He then realizes that, by helping a demon who may not have even wanted help, he has negatively impacted the livelihood of all of Xanth, and manages to convince the demon return in exchange for never being bothered again.
Piers Anthony’s writing is so laborious! The characters are very verbose about their thought processes, which is hardly necessary since their motives are so simplistic. After drinking a love potion and falling in love with another woman, Bink miraculously wills himself out of any feelings for her a few chapters later (this isn’t explicitly stated, he just stops losing control over his emotions, even though the magic is explicitly undone in a later chapter). Anthony had a perfect opportunity to have Bink “convince” his magic to intercede on his behalf, but instead just let it happen for no explained reason. This was all a part of a very forced story arc where Bink strengthens his moral integrity, but his actions don’t involve asking others what they actually want him to do for them, just what he considers to be helpful. Not to mention all of the weird gender dynamics.
It’s still excruciating to get through how Anthony deals with gender. The characters again harbor a lot of misogyny, for the sake of a very weak satire through which they once more learn to appreciate women. Just about every woman the Bink interacts with falls in love with him. Anthony reveals that demons have many more genders than humans, including “itmale, hemale, and shemale”.