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In the Night Garden

(The Orphan's Tales #1)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  9,825 ratings  ·  902 reviews
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
Paperback, 483 pages
Published October 31st 2006 by Bantam Dell (first published October 28th 2006)
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Sam There's actually only two books (four, if you consider that each book is split into two 'books'). They aren't short stories, and there is definitely p…moreThere's actually only two books (four, if you consider that each book is split into two 'books'). They aren't short stories, and there is definitely pay-off from the two books. You really need to read both books to have the pay-off you're looking for, though. Although the four stories are wonderful on their own.

These are two of my very favorite books of all time. So good. So you should really give it a go if you're interested! :)(less)
Becky Yes and no. I wouldn't personally be concerned about giving this to young teens because of subject matter, although I can see why others might be. Vio…moreYes and no. I wouldn't personally be concerned about giving this to young teens because of subject matter, although I can see why others might be. Violence, mutilation, sex, incest and rape all appear in the story, but it is not gratuitous or graphic. It helps that the writing style is so poetic and somewhat oblique.

I think that the themes of the book are great for young people, particularly that what is different or "monstrous" can be powerful and beautiful and that women have a lot more to do than just be princesses waiting on a prince.

I wouldn't recommend this book to teens however, unless they are very advanced readers. The dense writing style and complicated structure (a story within a story within a story within a story etc.) made it sometimes challenging for me, an adult, to follow. I imagine it might be frustrating or boring for readers who are not used to keeping track of numerous narrative threads and unusual structures.(less)

Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.92  · 
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Start your review of In the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales, #1)
Jul 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," or so the old quote says. I can't help but remember this saying as I attempt to write down some of my fragmented, all too feeble thoughts regarding Catherynne Valente's masterwork, The Orphan Tales: In the Night Garden and In the Cities of Coin and Spice. To start out with a bang, I have to tell you what my reaction was upon completing the last page of the second book. It was 1am, and I set the book down, after having to re-read one of th ...more
mark monday
Sep 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Tales within tales, tales out of space, tales that spring from stars that fall from sky to take human shape; the writer writes like the dreamer dreams dreams - some dreams yearning and romantic, others dark and tragic, each dream holding a little bit of the next dream in its heart: the story as Oriental Ouroboros: the Arabian Nights as template, as both starting point and point of resolution; themes and metaphors and symbols slowly surfacing, to disappear and then reappear again, transformed, re ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Mar 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2012
I've read parts of The Arabian Night about thirty years ago. In the Night Garden succeeds in recapturing that sense of wonder, of exploring incredibly rich, exotic cities, meeting fantastic creatures, magicians, kings and vagabonds, sailing to mythical shores or descending into mysterious caverns. And Catherynne Valente managed this without copying or borrowing from the original tales.

Her world may be inspired from different folk tales (I recognized Baba Yaga hut and people turned into birds, an
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to carol. by: Fantacy Aficionados, undoubtedly

Book as arabesque.

Short story leads to short story, each providing background and impetus for the next, characters answering questions to what led them to that intersection. It's a beautiful technique that comes back around to many of the original story characters.

The trouble for me is that the short story makes it easy to put down and go do something else, as it's often a natural break in the plot and action, so it took me far too long to finish. More clues or story in the background setting
Tales within tales within tales, all woven together like a magical, colorful tapestry depicting griffins, dead moon walkers, beastly princesses, princely beasts, pirate saints, Stars, snake gods, and so much more, all written in dark ink around the eyes of a little girl. Reading Valente's prose is like dreaming; during the act, you understand everything and think you see the truth, but when jerked back into reality, the stories fade together into a colorful, abstract image. It's pretty and meani ...more
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book has left me practically speechless. Almost anything I could say about it will fall flat in the sheer enormity of the experience.

So what DID I experience?


Dark fables incorporating wide mythologies reminiscent of all the best obscure fairy tales twisted in wonderfully unique ways, couched as stories within stories, adding tiny slivers of fate within each until it brings us back, wholly, to our Scheherazade, our poor orphan telling her story from the words tattooed o
Mar 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, fairy_tales
This has taken forever for me to finish. I just didn't want to go back to it. The first part is beautifully written, but her prose feels very effortful, as if all the beauty had to be hammered out, line by line, and she wants you to see each stroke. It finally picked up, but the interconnecting stories create a jumbled mess of a plot, not at all helped by the fact that many characters live for centuries, therefore making a general timeline almost impossible to put together. Very prettily describ ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
5.5 to 6.0 stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION and may make it on to me list of "All Time Favorites." This is an absolutely amazing novel that I believe could become a "classic" in years to come. A modern fairy tale told as a series of interwoven "stories within stories within stories" that all come together in one fashion or another (itself a brilliant achievement). This is a "one of a kind experience" and I can not wait to read the sequel.

Nominee: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2007)
Sep 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in dark fantasy
This book was a truly magical experience. I came across it almost by accident looking for something to satisfy Mysopoethic award winner category for my reading challenge. I am very happy I did because "The Orphan's Tales" is definitely not something I would normally be interested in.

This book is an Arabian Nights-inspired collection of stories that are nested within each other and cross over in the most unexpected places. The stories are not simple re-workings of old worn-out fairy tales. Now a
Jul 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Brian by: mark monday
Shelves: 2015_sow
Fans of creation myths, fractured fairy tales and stories in the key of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler will find plenty to love in this wondrous book of interweaving tales.

Valente writes in a panoply of differing voices; her stories rich and unique in their telling – marvelously intertwined and displaying real writerly prowess. The reader is taken down the rabbit hole of tales, each telescoping deeper into a rich narrative replete with beautifully imagined monsters, the angels and devils of h
Kagama-the Literaturevixen
Oct 04, 2011 rated it did not like it
I guess what I really have a problem with is how the tales are told in this book. I was expecting a 1001 nights approach to it all. One night,one tale. You know the thing.

But in this the stories just pile on top of each other, The girl starts out with a story and then someone in that story tells a story to another character and then we go into that story and so on.

It was maddening to me and I lost interest in trying to follow the increasingly more confusing story.
May 20, 2010 rated it liked it
This is much the kind of book I would expect to be written by someone who changed her name to 'Catherynne', with that spelling—it's all fantastical creatures and quests and magic. It is a much more intelligent book than I expected, with stories nested within stories, and gender tropes are inverted (there are no damsels in distress here) to my great satisfaction. The maiden is the monster is the pirate; women can grow up to be fierce warriors.

However, the Arabian Nights-style format can be a litt
Megan Baxter
Jan 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have loved or really enjoyed all of Valente's books that I've read. I'm a big fan. And while I quite enjoyed In the Night Garden quite a lot, there were moments when it feels like she was almost losing those strands of story, that they weren't being woven together quite enough and started to feel a bit snarled instead of simply messy.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the mean
Kat  Hooper
Mar 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

I haven't read any fantasy quite like Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales duology. This is the story of a young orphan girl who is shunned because of the dark smudges that appeared on her eyelids when she was a baby. She lives alone in a sultan's garden because people think she's a demon and nobody will claim her. However, one of the young sons of the sultan, a curious fellow, finds her in the garden and asks her about her dark eyes. She explains th
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Here at last is something truly rich and strange - a rarefied dish to cleanse even the most jaded palate. In the Night Garden is a virtuoso feat of storytelling somewhere between Italo Calvino and Arabian Nights that has me wondering over its slyly subversive stories days after I finished.

All of the stories herein begin with this one: an abandoned girl in a garden whose skin has magically been inscribed with minutely tattooed stories. Faced with her first and only potential audience, she is com
I've put off reviewing this one not out of laziness (mostly), because it is one of the most stunningly beautiful books I have ever read, and I'm still lost for words.

Discovering that there is, in fact, a sequel, and that my library did not have it - in fact no library in Auckland did, so therefore it had to be ordered in specially - and that I would have to wait to read it... well, perhaps a review will come soon after all as In the Cities of Coin and Spice has finally arrived for me to devour.

Sep 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
It’s true: This book is a fairytale masterpiece.

At first, the book feels like it’s delivering small whimsical data dumps like beach waves. At some point, you forget you were at the shore. Now you’re sailing on an enormous boat and you can’t see land.

Where did this boat come from? Do you ever get back to dry land? Do you ever care at that point? You’ll see what I mean if you end up reading this book. 😏

With all seriousness, Valente is a creative powerhouse. The structure alone is worth appreciat
An Odd1
Jul 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
"In the Garden" lives an almost woman abandoned as a toddler when an inky mask appeared across her eyes. Catherynne M. (Why? Are not middle initials customarily to distinguish common names?) Valente writes like a computer programmed to arbitrarily join a list of adjectives with nouns, and randomly extract one role as narrator to generate a new not-story.

Long lasting tales crossing cultures speak to basic eternal human emotions and conflicts. Soap operas are the most popular longest running show
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
“They were all whispers now, the two of them, conspirators and thieves."

Valente never disappoints. Such a marvelous writing and imagination.

Catherynne M. Valente is, in my opinion, one of the most talented fantasy author out there. Considering that In the night garden isn't one of her latest books, it's even more impressive. If I had to describe it I'd tell you that this is a matryoshka of stories. A story within a story whitin another story, a labyrinth in which it's easy to get lost. However i
Feb 26, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookmooch
Oh dear, this is going to be a hard one to finish. I suppose I should not be too terribly surprised that an author who spells her first name "Catherynne" is addicted to metaphor, but a minimum of one per paragraph? It's the literary equivalent of adding a sugared cherry on top of a thickly-iced ice cream cake--far too much!

* * *

The story-within-a-story is a venerable and venerated technique, but when taken to extremes, it's just torturous. Ms. Valente has overused the embedding to the point wher
Strange, fascinating, and mesmerizing. This has an old world fairy tale feel but is like nothing else. The stories within stories within stories... how did Valente keep track? And somehow it all fits together into a larger tapestry. The structure is a work of art, the language is enchanting, the stories sobering and realistic and fantastic at the same time. More, please.
Alix Harrow
Sep 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
I reviewed this book for the Women of Genre Fiction challenge hosted by Worlds Without End. I also review fantasy books weekly on my blog, The Other Side of the Rain.
Illustrations by the talented and versatile Michael Kaluta

In the Night Garden is essentially Arabian Nights, if Scheherazade had been a feminist literary critic with a working knowledge of world mythology and a wicked sense of irony. Certainly, this Scheherazade wouldn’t have ended up marrying the Sultan who put his first 1,000 wives to the death.

It starts with a young girl with dark t
aPriL does feral sometimes
It took millennia for the stories to be collected that eventually became the fairy tales we know: Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Eddas, One Thousand and One Nights. The unknown authors of these famous stories have been many, passing down oral tales for generations.

Now, Catherynne Valente has created an epic collection of new dark fairy tales (this anthology contains two books of interlocking stories, as does the sequel), which not only have the feel and sound of ancient myths and fantasy stories, they
Apr 23, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
The tales told to the young Prince come from the tattoos inked on the skin of a young woman. These same strange tattoos that are keeping her isolated from the rest of the sultan's household, make her seem fascinating to the prince. Each night he sneaks out to meet with her in the Sultan's gardens.

This book is two series of interwoven, short, personal tales told from the tattoos. Tales that ultimately braid together. Like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales there is a series of people's pilgrimages told i
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One Thousand and One Nights meets European folktales and modern fantasy (think, perhaps, a somewhat more self-serious Princess Bride) in a nested series of linked short stories.* The overall frame, where a sultan's son is told the stories by an outcast orphan hiding on the palace grounds, is the least interesting part, but a good many of the other threads are incredibly effective, deftly examining and flipping gender roles, archetypes, tropes and cliches ("Never put your faith in a Prince. When ...more
Mar 11, 2019 marked it as dnf-lost-interest
I really thought I would never say this about a Catherynne M. Valente book but here we are: I'm fifty pages in and I already want this book to end. So I'm not going to continue.

I don't know if her writing got drastically better since 2006 and that's why I love all her later books or if I'm just really in a bad mood, but I couldn't stand the writing in here and while I think this is... the book equivalent of a descending staircase, made of stories, I couldn't care about any of the stories themsel
They say there's a first for everything. And so for the first time ever I happen to hate a dreamy book full of fairy-tales with a fiery passion. What a chore to wade through. Wish I'd taken a peek at the 1 star reviews before excitedly galloping off to Kobo to get my paws on this. Although Palimpsest is easily as disorientating and impenetrable, at least the writing in that one was gorgeously lush. ...more
Jul 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
Another stunning book I couldn't put down...
Full review to come once I've digested this a bit more.

Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a very clever and unique book. At least, I’ve never read anything like it. It tells a lot of stories, I couldn’t say how many, but definitely more than a dozen. However, this is not an anthology. It’s layer upon layer upon layer of related stories nested inside each other.

The framing story is about a lonely girl who people shun because they believe she’s a demon. A curious boy approaches her and, over the course of a few days, she tells him two stories. Each of the two storie
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Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and cam ...more

Other books in the series

The Orphan's Tales (2 books)
  • In the Cities of Coin and Spice (The Orphan's Tales, #2)

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