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The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden
Catherynne M. Valente
Bantam Spectra, 479 pages

Catherynne M. Valente
Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics.

Her work in poetry and fiction can be found online and in print in such journals as Poetic Injustice, NYC Big City Lit, Byzantium, the forthcoming collection The Book of Fabulous Beasts, The Pomona Valley Review, The American River Review, and the anthology Approaching El Dorado (Twin Dolphin Press).

Her first chapbook, Music of a Proto-Suicide, was released in the winter of 2004.

Catherynne M. Valente Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Labyrinth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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"The boy stared. He looked closely and could see wavering lines in the solid black of her eyelid, hints of alphabets and letters he could not imagine. The closer he looked, the more shapes seemed to leap at him, clutch at him, until he was quite dizzy."
The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden In the Night Garden, is the first in a two part collection of stories, narrated Arabian Nights style by a semi-wild 13 year-old girl who lives a lonely existence in sprawling gardens surrounding a sultan's palace. The other children are frightened of her, due to the marks that make her different to them. This, not unattractive disfigurement, was also what led to her being banished from the palace itself. In truth, the strange markings are the result of someone magically tattooing her eyelids and the flesh around her eyes when she was an infant. But the tattoos are much more than artwork, they are stories and spells, written in incredibly fine, close packed script. When a young prince is brave enough to approach her, the lonely girl trades his company for the stories written around her eyes.

Catherynne M. Valente uses this inventive basis to weave in and out of tales that are part nouveau mythology and part fairy tale, inter-flowing in a river of dreams. Her use of language is often quite beautiful, and the basic elements with which she works are further enhanced by knavish twists of standard fantasy archetypes. Elements from a variety cultures are expertly mixed and peppered with Valente's intriguing creative sparks. Each character and situation the narrator reveals feels as if it has a life of its own, yet mingles with others in ways that enhance the whole. In the Night Garden also shares at least three traits with the ubiquitous Harry Potter. The spellbinding descriptive almost forces readers to continue just a few pages more, the stories can be appreciated equally by children and adults, and both good and evil are vividly defined in the mind's eye. As if this feast wasn't quite enough, the unstoppable creative force of the book is given an extra burst by a series of evocative black and white illustrations, from veteran comic book artist Michael Kaluta.

Every tale told by the narrator brims with the stuff of life. At turns poetic, sumptuous, beguiling and numinous, the tales are interspersed by sly glimpses of the growing relationship between the storyteller and her prince. The overall effect is to make reading In the Night Garden as close to a genuinely magical experience as it's possible to get, and elevates the work above most other contemporary fantasy. One day in the not too distant future, it could easily come to be regarded as a literary classic. Savvy school librarians should add it to their lists right now. Cover to cover, this is an astonishing work which reinterprets and redefines the definition of a modern classic fairytale.

Copyright © 2007 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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