I have been reading Catherynne Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales, and it’s so phenomenal that I wasn’t able to put it down. I finally finished it this evening, and I am just blown away.
Similar to the One Thousand and One Nights, The Orphan’s Tales is organized as a tale-within-a-tale, centering on a young prince who finds a young girl living in the palace gardens. She has been cast out because her eyes are completed rimmed in black, and many assume that she is demon-born. She tells him, however, that the marks on her eyes are really tales that have been magically tattooed onto her skin, and once she reads them all, they will vanish. He begs to hear the tales that she has been able to read, and the book begins.
These are gorgeous, lavish fairy tales, twisted and funny and rather macabre, all at once. The girl tells stories of evil sorcerers, centaur-emperors, stars who wish to live as mortals, and all sorts of bizarre monsters. The amount of detail, and all of the descriptions, are just delicious. For example,
The crown seemed to sing and whisper and wheedle from its height, slung onto a branch of a tree at the far end of the field. It shone, and sparkled, and sighed that it wished only to rest on my head. I liked it, too; it smelled only of itself, and that was good enough to me. (214)
The dawn had begun to dress herself in blue and gold, adorning her hair with red jewels. She stretched out her hands to the two children, now almost asleep in the window of the tower. The girl cradled the boy in her lap, her hands stroking his hair, as she spoke the last words of her tale. A wind stirred in the Garden, and a whirl of white blossoms leapt into the air, wept along in the cool currents and eddies. Wild birds pinwheeled above their heads, singing with such passion they nearly died of the song. (225)
In other reading news, I went a little crazy with interlibrary loan at the local library, and now have another 4 books sitting on the shelf, including an old Christopher Pike paperback (because I need to intersperse some trashy stuff in-between all this highbrow lit I’ve been gorging myself on) and the first book in Tamora Pierce’s Lioness Quartet series, which is the Holy Grail of YA-fantasy-with-kickass-female-protagonist.I don’t know when I am going to find the time to read all of these, but when I do, it is going to be very exciting.