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Friday, October 26, 2007

"The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice" by Catherynne M. Valente

Official Orphan’s Tales Website
Order “In the Cities of Coin & SpiceHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of “In the Night Garden

Originally conceived as a novella, Catherynne M. Valente’sThe Orphan’s Tales” then grew into a four-book series with each part representing a certain season in the Garden, before being published as a duology by Bantam Spectra. Volume one, “In the Night Garden”, included The Book of the Steppe and The Book of the Sea, was released October 2006, won the 2006 Tiptree Award, is a 2007 World Fantasy Award finalist, and was reviewed by Fantasy Book Critic HERE. Volume two, “In the Cities of Coin & Spice”, includes The Book of the Storm and The Book of the Skald, is available October 30, 2007, and concludes “The Orphan’s Tales”.

Structured the same as its predecessor, “In the Cities of Coin and Spice” continues the tales of a nameless orphan girl living in the gardens of a Sultan’s palace as she relates to the Sultan’s boy the fantastical stories that are inscribed around her eyes in black ink. The stories themselves are compiled into two books—The Book of the Storm, The Book of the Skald—with each series of tales not only connected to one another through means both subtle and divine that come together at each book’s end, but also are related to the previous tales already told. Of the two books found “In the Cities of Coin and Spice”, I personally liked The Book of the Storm more with its tales of the Mourned City, a creature made entirely out of teeth bones, food being distilled from rocks and jewels (opals, pearls, lapis lazuli, diamonds, topaz), a machine that manufactures coins out of the bones of little boys & girls, and lizards born with markings (recipes, stories, equations, prophecies, laws, etc.) on their backs who can be bred together to create new markings. While The Book of the Skald wasn’t quite as compelling for me, it still had more than its share of wonders including an automaton made out of mechanical gears, a woman with violin bows as fingers, goldfish who can transform into dragons, talking shoes that teaches girls how to dance and so on. One notable difference about The Book of the Skald is that it’s the boy telling the stories, not the orphan girl because she is unable to read the markings, so for her, just as it is for the boy and for the readers, the outcome is unknown. Of course, the best thing about “In the Cities of Coin and Spice” is that readers finally get to find out who the orphan girl is, how she got the markings around her eyes, what they mean, how all of the tales fit together, and what the future holds for her. Truthfully, the ending wasn’t completely unexpected, but it was sweet and just as magical as the rest of the duology…

I’m not sure why, but I seemed to get a lot more from “In the Cities of Coin and Spice” than I did from “In the Night Garden”. For instance, I noticed how each individual tale is written just a little bit differently from the other. Sometimes it’s hard to see, but the variations are there and it’s quite impressive considering just how many ‘tales’ there are. Then there was the way the book appeals to your senses. While artist Michael Kaluta (Lucifer, The Books of Magic, Vampirella, Metropolis) once again provides a visual impact with the sketches included “In the Cities of Coin and Spice”; smell, taste and sound are just as important, and Ms. Valente does a masterful job of evoking all five senses, even touch, which in turn adds amazing depth & texture to the stories. Finally, I realized that part of what Ms. Valente has done with “The Orphan’s Tales”, is taken traditional fairy tale tropes and turned them on their head. So while the books feature a lot of recognizable creatures (djinn, unicorns, manticores, harpies, giants, basilisks, lamias, sirens, et cetera), story ideas (princes, quests, damsels in distress) and morals/themes, Ms. Valente explores them in ways never done before. What I found most impressive about the book however, was the same thing I liked about “In the Night Garden”—how all of the stories were connected and ended up fitting together into one stunning mosaic. As remarkable as it was to see this done “In the Night Garden”, it’s even more extraordinary now that I’ve completed the duology and can see the big picture. It’s a testament not only to the author’s genius for accomplishing such a feat, but also to her insanity for even undertaking such a project in the first place ;)

As much as I would love to continue gushing about how magnificent “In the Cities of Coin and Spice” and “In the Night Garden” are, Catherynne M. Valente'sThe Orphan’s Tales” is just one of those rare adventures that needs to be experienced firsthand in order to fully appreciate. Trust me. Its one thing to read about something as unique as “The Orphan’s Tales”, but it’s quite another when you’re actually reading it yourself. So do yourself a favor, pick up both of the books, read them back-to-back if you can, and prepare yourself for one of the most imaginative and delightful journeys that you can find in literature today. Truly a new classic…

8 comments:

Lawrence said...

Good review and thanks for the recommendation ;)

Calibandar said...

I think this series is plain weird. Very, very out there, and despite the beautiful writing, that really limits its appeal to me. I prefer Fantasy that is still fantastical, but more traditional.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Dag nabbit! Not another good book you keep persuading me to pick up!

I've just reviewed The Long Price. Just like to thank you for getting me to get back into it, for it is wonderful. I've mentioned your DA interview, and reviews, too :)

My Internet problems are over!

~Chris
The Book Swede

Robert said...

Lawrence, hope you like it if you check it out!

Calibander, I didn't really think it was that off-the-wall. She's play around with a lot of standard tropes, so the basics are traditionally grounded, but when she gets creative, she really gets creative ;)

I do think a reader will get more out of it if they read the whole duology back-to-back than just the first part, which is why I recommended it. I actually have an interview with the author which I'll be posting next Friday, so maybe that'll persuade you to give it another shot...

Chris, good to see you back :) I'm glad you ended up enjoying Daniel Abraham's series and I appreciate all the links!

Katie said...

Wow, these sound fantastic. I'll have to pick them up. I hadn't even heard her name before so thanks for the intro! :)

Ben said...

I loved In the Night Garden and can't wait to read the new book! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it--there is nothing worse than reading a great first book and then being disappointed with the next one (or ten!)

Larry said...

I can't wait to read it in the next week or so. For some odd reason, Bantam/Spectra send me certain books on their own, but didn't send this one. To be fair, I haven't been in steady communication with the publicists since the school year ended, so I suppose I get what I deserved, huh? :P

Sounds like I'll be in for an excellent read when it does arrive - and of course, I enjoyed your review of it :D

Robert said...

Katie, I'd definitely recommend picking up the duology :)

Ben, no let down here. The second volume is just as good, if not better than the first one!

Larry, can't wait to see what you think about the second book and the duology as a whole. Should be interesting as always ;)

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