January 27th, 2008


SpecFic Challenge #4.1: "The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden" by Cathrynne Valente

It's hard to know what to say about this book beyond heaping superlatives on it.

But I guess I have to try, so. The easiest way to describe this book is to compare it to the Arabian Nights: a girl is held captive (by a curse, in this case), and the only way for her to save herself is by telling stories. She lives in the palace garden, and a boy who lives in the palace is the audience for her tales. That's the framework; the meat of the book is the stories she tells. And what stories: each tale contains a dozen others, stories within stories so intricately that I'm amazed at how well it holds together. Each character in the main story has its own story to tell, and often there are other stories within that story, nested four or five layers deep. It sounds confusing now that I try to explain it, but it's really not like that when you're reading it -- Valente holds each thread with great care, weaving them together into a seamless tapestry.

The prose is gorgeous and rich. In the hands of a less capable writer, it might have turned too purple, but Valente skirts the edge perfectly. It helps that the lush, dense language suits the story very well; it adds to the mythic atmosphere.

Thumbs way, way up. I recommend this book to anyone. And everyone.