Terri Kempton's Reviews > Palimpsest

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
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Dec 06, 11


The underlying concept - a sexually transmitted city - is fascinating. Valente applies her sharp, rich prose to this most unusual premise and she delivers a truly unique reading experience. This is a strong book, and our main four characters are charmingly complex, desperate, real, flawed, and beautiful.

Some of the world-building aspects are similar in nature to the Orphan's Tales books; I haven't decided if I find that a strength to be so identifiable, or a weakness to have repetitive ideas. Both stories feature girls who are tattooed, and whose tattoos leave them as they complete their tasks (one, through telling stories; the other, by having sex). Both have rivers made of unlikely substances, with similar strange inhabitants and communities on their banks. Both feature chimeras, half human/half animals. Both have females in leadership positions, and both have beautifully strange religious devotees. But the similarities end there: at the heart of it, this is a book about the many faces of sex. Up to a point, it's a very sex positive story - we see passion, and real connection, and a beautiful eroticism that stands as a gate to the city. I love her understanding of fluid sexuality and identity! This turns uglier as passion becomes desperation, and became surprisingly sex negative about halfway through. It's rough, folks. It was a joy to read Valente's celebration of friendship and erotic play return towards the end, albeit with a very different understanding.

I really liked this book. It's not my favorite Valente, but she created an awesome and ambitious concept and was able to bring it home.
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