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

The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden
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: In the Night Garden
SF Site Review: The Labyrinth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mario Guslandi

If you're fond of good fantasy and you appreciate elegant language this is the book for you.

In the Night Garden is the first volume of a duology -- entitled The Orphan's Tales -- in the tradition of The Arabian Nights, composed of a complex pattern of intertwining fairy tales featuring kings, princes and princesses, beast maidens, witches and wizards, tavern keepers, saints, assassins, living stars and so on.

The narrator (an apparent projection of the author herself) is an outcast little girl, living in the garden of a sultan's palace, whose eyelids are magically tattooed with stories written in very fine characters. She's doomed to tell her tales until the day her own story will be completely revealed and she will find her own redemption. But in order to discover the final solution we'll have to wait for the second volume, the forthcoming In the Cities of Coin and Spice. In the meantime, the girl shares her tales with another child, a boy who has shown interest and kindness to her and who soon becomes totally engrossed with the yarns.

Blending with great skill, material from folklore, classical fairy tale characters and products of her own fertile imagination, Catherynne M. Valente creates a whole fascinating new mythology apt to keep most readers spellbound. She is an extraordinary fantasist and, what makes her fiction memorable, is her stylish narrative, where prose becomes music, every adjective or verb being a note, every phrase a melody, and the whole book an elaborated symphony. Not many writers nowadays are endowed with such a masterly command of the language, with such a sensitivity to the nuances of every word, such an ability in making reading a total experience involving all five senses.

(It's no coincidence that Valente is not only a fiction writer but also a respected author of poetry.)

In this context, I can't omit to mention the spectacular artwork by Michael Kaluta who interprets and embellishes the tales with a bunch of enchanting black-and-white drawings.

On the other hand, outstanding as the book can be, caution is needed when tempted to call it a literary masterpiece.

While following a story, the reader is continuously interrupted by the sprouting of a new yarn, which in turn generates another tale. Fascinating as it may seem, this storytelling technique may make some reader weary after a while. Because, frankly, not every tale is memorable and developing a sound plot is not Valente's strongest point.

Another weak spot is the length of the book, which goes on for about 480 pages and, despite its charming beauty, may become a bit tedious to the reader not wise enough to savour it a bit at time. Truth be told, this is not the author's fault. In an online interview, she has revealed that she had a four-book series in mind but that Bantam has decided to combine the material in two volumes, although the original format of the stories has been maintained and no condensation has been made. This proves that, more often than not, writers know better than editors and publishers...

Copyright © 2007 by Mario Guslandi

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy, and is a long-time fan of dark fiction. His book reviews have appeared on a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, Necropsy, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.

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