Tales of shape-shifting witches and wild horsewomen, heron kings and beast princesses, snake gods, dog monks, and living stars. Each story more strange and fantastic than the one that came before. From ill-tempered mermaid to fastidious Beast, nothing is ever quite what it seems in these ever-shifting tales even, and especially, their teller.
Catherynne Valente solidified her space as one of my favorite authors with this exquisitely written duology The Orphan Tales.
The first volume, In the Night Garden, introduces us to a mysterious storyteller and her curious upbringing in the lush gardens of a Sultan’s palace. Our guide weaves nested tales within stories within myths that flow along the pages as if we are in a dream.
While amidst this tapestry of tales, each interwoven story makes perfect sense, but once you close the book they blend together into an abstract feeling – hard to describe, but imprinted in your memory like a incredibly detailed daydream.
Valente’s prose is rich and all-encompassing. You can feel the moonlight, smell the spices, and hear the sea nearby as she paints each fairytale into an enchanting reality.
Although her stories are most certainly beautiful, they can also be dark and gritty – giving each tale incredible depth. She inverts gender tropes, tossing aside any suggestion of women being weak. In Valente’s world, princesses are pirates as well as beasts. Maidens are rarely what they appear, and women can grow up to be fierce warriors.
This duology is not an easy read. Both volumes are interconnected and the swirling, dancing plot can be hard to follow at times. You may also find, like I have, each story feels even richer when read aloud.
There is an amazing payoff once you let go of trying to make the connections between each story. Simply enjoying each well-honed sentence is the secret to fully enjoying this series. Your questions will finally be answered, and once you see how each timeline lines up, you will be in awe of Valente’s creative genius.
Mary King is the creator of the haute esoteric lifestyle blog Orb of the Night. She spends far too much time on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She can usually be found painting, planning, or reading with a nice cup of tea.