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Palimpsest
Catherynne M. Valente
Bantam Spectra, 367 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: A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects
SF Site Review: The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden
SF Site Review: The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden
SF Site Review: The Labyrinth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alma A. Hromic

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Palimpsest In the author's own words, Palimpsest is a "sexually transmitted city." Those who have been there carry portions of it on their skin, the city's brands, a spidery tattoo which, on closer inspection, reveals itself to be a section of the city map, its streets and squares and intersections and train stations. The brand is passed on through the act of sexual congress, and at first you are limited in which parts of the city you can visit determined by which actual part of the map your lover has tattooed on their skin -- which means that ingenues get lost and frustrated until they figure it out, and the more experienced travellers (or, if you like, the more hardcore Palimpsest addicts who cannot get enough of the place) learn to find "sequential lovers," people whose maps concatenate, linking one to the next, giving the seeker a chance to explore more and more of the city as the maps on his or her body and in his or her mind expand and complexify.

In Palimpsest, all new arrivals are Quartered -- four people, four strangers, who arrive in the same moment and the same space are linked together permanently by an enchantress with the head of a frog who wields Tarot cards like a weapon and sends these four strangers out to fend for themselves after telling them only enough to let them stumble to the next signpost, blind with ignorance and driven by the need to return to Palimpsest as to a lost paradise after they "wake" from this first visit and realise that the city, the virus, is raging in their blood. Palimpsest -- the book -- is about four of these creatures, one Quartet, and the monsters, ghosts, lovers, friends and strangers who slip in and out of their lives… and their road back to the city where, as the frontispiece on the book points out, everyone and everything is more than they seem.

It's New Weird in all its glory, a fever dream of lush worlbuilding and memorable imagery and characters who bear strange and somehow always utterly apt names, all of it tangled in the rich and baroque language of fairy-tale that is just about to turn into myth. Catherynne M. Valente has mastered the art of writing prose that might as well be poetry, her language almost as much of an art form as the story itself, and for fans of her Orphan's Tales books this volume (not quite the same as the others, not QUITE, but the base of the elixir is made from the same rich and strange ingredients…) this new book will be a gift. Not for prudes or the imagination-impaired; this is not our world, and belief needs to be suspended, and an entirely different moral code is in place. But Valente is a modern-day Scheherezade, and she knows how to tell this tale. If you want to join her in this mind-bending journey, check your own prejudices -- and everything you think you know to be true -- right there at the door. You enter Palimpsest, as all do, as a new and scrubbed-clean soul. What you find there, what gets tattooed onto you by the ancient city, is out there for you to find out. If you dare.

Copyright © 2009 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves." When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her international success, The Secrets of Jin Shei, has been translated into ten languages worldwide, and its follow-up, Embers of Heaven, is coming out in 2006. She is also the author of the fantasy duology The Hidden Queen and Changer of Days.


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