This book is not like other books. There are severalfold reasons any one reader might like it, and I only fulfil a few of them. A couple more and I daThis book is not like other books. There are severalfold reasons any one reader might like it, and I only fulfil a few of them. A couple more and I daresay I'd be giving it five stars!
To begin with, the story is set after all the 'action' has occurred, so it's not very plot-driven. It's written in diary form, and convincingly too. The entries are meandering and thoughtful, and don't read at all like a standard narrative. The protagonist - 15-year old Mori - has a very natural voice, and gives over as much time in celebrating her latest reading experiences in science fiction and fantasy, as she does in describing her day. Indeed, Among Others is as much a declaration of love for books and libraries, and escapism and education through reading (not forgetting reading for reading's sake!) as it is a novel. Bookworms of all ages and preferences will appreciate this, though fans of the SF genre (in particular titles from the 70's, when the book is set, and earlier), will get the most out of Mori's revelations.
On the surface this is the tale of a Welsh schoolgirl - crippled and bereft - who finds herself in an English boarding school.
Then there's the magic, for though we only have Mori's word on matters, and she's suffered quite an emotional upheaval, we know from Walton that the fantastical elements aren't just made up. Whilst Mori might have quite an expansive imagination, fuelled by the multitude of books she reads, there are fairies (though not as we might expect), and she really did save the world. Magic is a tenuous thing, according to Mori, and harnessing it very subtly and intricately alters the world, as if things had always been that way. It has plausible deniability, and so can be passed off as coincidence. It's actually a fascinating and beautiful idea, well-described in the book.
The 'real world' story, which many readers might naturally suspect is truly playing out given the physical and psychological trauma Mori has suffered, and favour over the supernatural world she portrays, (claiming an unreliable narrator) is simply the aspect of the plot that is drawn from the author's own experiences, but it is not the story she chose to tell. I think the message to take away is that in a world with magic, the aftermath of a fantastical 'battle' can contain as much hurt and grief as any real-world trauma will bring; that books are as much a source of relief and joy; that the supernatural is in fact as natural!...more
Please note, In the Night Garden, and In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne Valente, are essentially two volumes of one "book" (The Orphan's TPlease note, In the Night Garden, and In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne Valente, are essentially two volumes of one "book" (The Orphan's Tales). If I were to try writing separate reviews, they would surely bleed into one another, much like the stories told in its pages. I'll drop the inverted commas hereafter though...
The Orphan's Tales is a masterpiece.
The fact creeps upon you slowly as you near the end; as you realise the complex web Valente has spun, in which every character (and there are scores of these!) is connected in some way to those who have gone before (or are yet to come), even though the tales span generations, and vast distances.
Four tales-proper are told, but each is made up of dozens of smaller tales, nested several-deep. Reading The Orphan's Tales is like exhaustively exploring an unfamiliar city. Each path must be trodden, each turn taken, and most roads lead to other roads, so that you have to carefully retrace your steps to get back to where you started. At times you are several layers into the story before retreating and heading in a different direction. This is superbly done, and as you progress, more tales from earlier on begin to crop up peripherally, until it becomes apparent that they are all intricately connected - sometimes subtly, occasionally with some stark twist you didn't see coming.
Valente takes every mythological creature and every fairy tale cliché, and turns it spectacularly on its head. We have remorse-stricken sirens, dark and wild unicorns, and singing manticores; basilisks who think they're noble (but weasels are wicked!), and leucrotta who cordially offer up their skin to a witch-in-need. We have selkies, firebirds, griffins and huldras, and many other fantastical monsters besides. The perspectives are utterly fresh - I was delighted with them.
The author's style is certainly wordy, and unsurprisingly poetic (given her previous works). Some might criticise it as purple prose (I won't deny there are purple patches!) but generally the intricate plot and depth of characterisation can easily withstand this. The base plot - that of a young girl in the palace gardens reading the crown prince stories inked mysteriously onto her eyelids - felt ever-so-slightly flat at times, likely in contrast to the exotic and colourful details of the tales themselves, but these interludes are very lightly peppered throughout, and are the only occasions I thought the writing a little over-ornate in-context. They improve a good deal as the story goes on, too, seeming less contrived, and sweeter. The style may be flowery, but it is ideally-suited to to the concept. Valente was ambitious, but carried it off almost perfectly. The ending is strong and heart-warming, and brings the thousand-odd pages together into a beautiful whole, leaving me quite affected.
The is the second-only instance in a life of reading, in which, having finished a book, I've wanted to go back to the beginning immediately, and read it again. (The first was with The Gormenghast Novels). This speaks for the intricacy of both the over-arching story, and the writing, in that I know I would glimpse new things, appreciate the myriad plots in a yet more relative way, perhaps dwell on the prose a little longer, and not tire of it in the slightest.
I was blown away by how masterful this story is. If you appreciate fairy tales, mythology, poetic prose, the frame story and story within a story literary techniques, or just high-quality fantasy, you simply must read this book!...more