Nicole's Reviews > Palimpsest

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
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Jun 03, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011
Read from May 31 to June 03, 2011

A friend at one time, and again recently, suggested I give Palimpsest a try. So I did. Finally.

And I liked it. I really did, even though it’s in a style and genre which is often unimpressive to me. That is to say, the language is quite ornamented, and focuses a lot on decorative elements. I understand why one would want to write prose in such a way, especially for a story such as this one. It just usually doesn’t engage me. It’s also in the vein of urban fantasy and seemed a bit steam punk in parts, which, like every genre imaginable, is populated by crap. This was not crap, by the way. I only mean to say that I don’t typically sift through the urban fantasy genre to find the gold like I do with other genres; I burned out on it a long time ago and still haven’t totally recovered, I’ll be honest. Neil Gaiman is about the extent of my ventures into that realm of literature anymore and I’m not always awed with him either. And, frankly, who hasn’t dipped their toe in that particular pool? I’m not a fearless adventurer charting unknown territories with that author.

The point is, I appreciate the recommendation and don’t regret following through on it against my inclination to the genre. It’s nice to be reminded that there’s always going to be something awesome in a place I never would have looked otherwise because of my biases.

That said, I get the feeling I’m not in the majority in not being terribly enamored of Palimpsest as a setting. It seems especially designed to create wonder and beauty for the reader. Again, though, this is just a personal taste issue. I could see that it was deftly handled and well-written. Valente never over described anything, even when she lingered on her images. I never felt overwhelmed or weighed down by chains made of gold or anything horrid like that. It never felt gratuitous.

I did, however, love the complexity of the characters’ relationships and the way their stories, even when separate, mirrored and twisted around and played with the same themes. I liked that the minor characters had dimension regardless of their impact on the plot. I appreciated that Palimpsest was this magical place, but was also mundane for the inhabitants, a bit dangerous, and not at all easy for the visitors to navigate. All of this elevated the drama of the characters’ desperation in a way that pleased me, and worked more effectively to convince me that Palimpsest was a place worth knowing than all of the delicate descriptions Valente employed.
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