Review: In the Night Garden (The Orphan’s Tales 01) by Catherynne M. Valente

This one was recommended to me by lovely Melfka – thank you, my dear,  and I owe you again!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A Book of Wonders for Grown-Up Readers.

Every once in a great while a book comes along that reminds us of the magic spell that stories can cast over us to dazzle, entertain, and enlighten. Welcome to the Arabian Nights for our time a lush and fantastical epic guaranteed to spirit you away from the very first page.

Secreted away in a garden, a lonely girl spins stories to warm a curious prince: peculiar feats and unspeakable fates that loop through each other and back again to meet in the tapestry of her voice. Inked on her eyelids, each twisting, tattooed tale is a piece in the puzzle of the girl’s own hidden history.

And what tales she tells! Tales of shape-shifting witches and wild horsewomen, heron kings and beast princesses, snake gods, dog monks, and living stars each story more strange and fantastic than the one that came before. From ill-tempered mermaid to fastidious Beast, nothing is ever quite what it seems in these ever-shifting tales even, and especially, their teller.

My impressions:

Imagine you get an unasuming box of chocolates. You open it, eat some of the first layer and then discover that under them there is a second one and a third one and a fourth too, each consisting of sweets shaped like plants and animals, with original flavours you’ve never tasted before. That was my personal feeling while reading the first part of Ms. Valente’s trilogy.

I appreciated so many things about this novel. First, the poetic language full of great turns of phrases. Second, the delightful dominance of female heroines. Third, the ever-lasting presence of monsters which, partially, seemed to be borrowed from Metamorphoses of Ovid and partially seemed to be creatures straight from your most weird nightmares. Tales within tales within tales, all woven together like a magical, colorful tapestry, were full of them. I liked beastly princesses, princely beasts, pirate saints, and living, talking Stars who might or mightn’t turn into Snakes. It doesn’t mean the rest was bad, quite the opposite in fact. Centaurs. Griffins. Greedy mages. Murderous kings. Popesses (yes, female popes!) All of them were as three-dimensional as it is possible, all of them interesting and surprising. Sheherezade would be overwhelmed to put it lightly.

Any flaws? I admit that sometimes the tales within tales within tales got confusing, and I lost track of where I was and whose story I was reading. Well it didn’t matter after a while. Another fact: don’t expect to read this book as quickly as any other story. It demands time and attention, sometimes even jumping backwards to remind yourself what tale have you started.

Final verdict:

An amazing novel and a great reading experience even if not the easiest one. I am not surprised this one won several awards, the  Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (2008) among them. If you like totally twisted tales and monsters that prove time and again that appearances are deceptive you should find and read it. Personally, I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. Truly brilliant like the brightest star!


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11 Responses to Review: In the Night Garden (The Orphan’s Tales 01) by Catherynne M. Valente

  1. blodeuedd says:

    You always find the strangest books :=)

  2. Melfka says:

    I’m glad you liked it. But I need to disappoint you, AFAIK it’s not a series, there’s only one more book, “In the Cities of Spice and Coin” and it ends there, beautifully wrapping up to the very beginning of the story.
    Though I’m somewhat surprised you’ve found the book hard to follow, I’ve read it bit by bit (lunch breaks, commuting, evenings, etc.) and felt the story and its structure was easy to follow. But then, I grew up reading “Arabian Nights”.

  3. heidenkind says:

    The summary reminds me of Night’s Master by Tanith Lee, mainly because of the Arabian Nights conception.

  4. Carole Rae says:

    🙂 Sounds like a good tale. So maybe for me.

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