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The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice (edition 2007)

by Catherynne Valente

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4952320,650 (4.56)31
Member:calmclam
Title:The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice
Authors:Catherynne Valente
Info:
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:****1/2
Tags:fantasy, frame narrative

Work details

In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne Valente

  1. 00
    The Drowning City by Amanda Downum (ligature)
  2. 00
    The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (clfisha)
    clfisha: Modern, intelligent re-workings of fairy tales. Short stories rather then nested.
  3. 00
    Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (AmethystFaerie)
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» See also 31 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
I honestly feel that books one and two should be put together, because it is not so much a sequel but the progression of the book. In this way, my review of the first book is very much relevant for this book as well.

And perhaps this is simply me reading more into stories than is actually there, but I was completely enamoured with the stripped down version of Hansel and Gretel, if you can even call it that. Whereupon a boy and a girl fall into a witch's home and death is the only thing in their future - but by shoving a part of themselves into the machine, the furnace, they are able to make their way out. It is similar, it is not similar. There are elements there that make me close my eyes to puzzle out the flavor and see if it is truly a fairy tale. Or if it is something new entirely.

I loved the story of the older sister in which she is desperate to hear of a happy ending for the Black Pappess, because she sees herself in that character. A character within a character. It is almost more honest in a way because it feels less like a story.

Beautiful and brilliant.

I was not that thrilled with the ending because I could have imagined the first layer of the story in a completely magic-less world. The first layer felt like reality, like it could happen to anyone. But weaving all of the haunting tales into the first story made it flatly into just another magical story. And I think it detracts.

But ultimately, this is one of the most beautiful tales I have read.
Five stars (maybe a 4.75 because of the ending, but whatever). ( )
  NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
Tiptree winner 2006
  SChant | May 6, 2014 |
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 that there are wonderful stories written on her eyelids and that a spirit has told her she must read and tell the stories; Then the spirit will return and judge her. The prince loves stories, he begs her to tell him one, and so she begins.

The rest of In the Night Garden and its sequel In the Cities of Coin and Spice is a collection of nested stories that are interspersed with short interactions between the young prince and the girl with the dark eyes (somewhat like The Arabian Nights). These stories are all connected to each other, but each is unique and highly imaginative. There are fascinating creatures--many based on myths and fairy tales--like a monopod, two griffins, a necromancer, a wicked papess, an otter king, a woman with three breasts, three brothers with dog heads who become accidental cannibals, a leucrotta, a Magyr, a skin seller, living stars fallen to earth . . . and these are just some of those that I can describe in a few words (and I'm not giving them justice). The characters in The Orphan's Tales remind me of the Cantina Scene in Star Wars. The darker characters, (e.g., the wizard and the necromancer), are particularly excellent. Ms Valente's imagination for bizzarre characters and plots exceeds Lewis Carroll's and she never lets up. Each story is brilliant and brilliantly told.

And the prose is truly beautiful:

"He was very tall, and thin as a length of paper. His skin and cloaks were the color of the moon--not the romantic lover's moon, but the true lunar geography I had heard whispered by Sun-and-Moon Nurians come to buy glass for their strange sky-spying tools: gray and pockmarked, full of secret craters, frigid peaks, and blasted expanses. His eyes had no color in them save for a pinpoint pupil like a spindle's wound--the rest was pure, milky white. He passed three solid gold pieces over my mother's palm, and she shuddered in revulsion at his touch when the money changed hands. She handed me over eagerly, examining the coins like a fat pig snuffling at its supper slop."

"My mother had kept silent as a nun since the day my sister was taken from her. I was an infant when she vanished from us; I never knew that sister. But her absence stalked the house like a hungry dog. The hole where she had been took up space at our dinner table, it sagged and slumped in the musty air, it ate and drank and breathed down all of our necks. . . I grew up alone in that silent house with nothing but the stinking cows and my mute mother and the hole. Even my father didn't want to spend his days there; he stayed in the fields directing hay-rolling and goat-breeding until it was dark enough to slip back inside the house without anyone bothering him. But still, the hole answered the bell when he rang, and he had to scurry to bed with his head down to avoid looking it in the eye."

There are many more of these gorgeous passages to enjoy. My only complaint about the writing itself is that there are dozens of characters in The Orphan's Tales and they ALL talk like that. So, it's not very realistic, but I suppose realism wasn't exactly what Ms Valente, as a poet, was going for.

One other small complaint I have is that because the stories of The Orphan's Tales seem at first to be random and unrelated, it's hard to feel deeply involved with many of the characters because they don't stick around for long (except for the orphan and the sultan's son who don't do much but talk and listen). But, again, that's the point, because we learn at the end of In the Cities of Coin and Spice that all of the strange stories and characters actually contribute to, and explain, the history of the orphan girl. Perhaps that's a bit of a spoiler, but you'll enjoy the stories more if you realize that it's all going somewhere. And, besides, you're a clever reader, and you'll probably figure out that there's got to be something going on here besides just a bunch of beautifully-written, highly imaginative, unconnected stories.

But, the main reason I'm telling you this is because I know you'll get more out of your reading if you follow the advice I'm going to give you... Just trust me: Get yourself a pencil, a pad of paper, and a fine cup of caffeinated coffee (in my experience, a Starbucks Venti Latte works best). Sit down with In the Night Garden and read the first few pages up to the point where the girl starts to tell "the first tale I was able to read, from the crease of my left eyelid." This first story is about Prince Leander. Write "Prince Leander" at the bottom of your paper. Prince Leander runs into a gray-haired tattooed "crone" and a few pages later, she starts to tell her story. Write "crone," or whatever you want to call her, above Prince Leander's name. Soon, "crone" starts telling the story that her grandmother told her. Write "crone's grandmother" above her name. (I've got a picture of my own notes at Fantasy Literature ) This is not the kind of book you can leave for a few days and come back to unless you have notes to tell you who was talking to who. Or unless you're a lot smarter than me ... which is certainly possible.

Highly recommended for the reader who appreciates beautiful prose, is willing to take notes, and is looking for something original.

Read more Catherynne Valente book reviews at Fantasy Literature ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
It’s not my usual habit to read two books in a row by the same writer, and after the richness of the first volume of this treasure chest of stories, I was slightly hesitant. Still, I trusted the friends who recommended me to treat this as one book ,and dove in. It wasn’t long before I was drawn back into the maze. Many of the stories in this volume are darker and more sinister. I will long remember the haunting city of Marrow, eaten and changed by a creature all teeth and hunger, now a flimsy shadow of it’s glorious, glittering past, huddling around a single, massive mint creating coins out of children’s bones. Or the grey mice filling out a coat like a wicked golem, eager to taste every color in the world with sharp little teeth. Or the sirens when they to their horror realize the songs they are singing for their own pleasure are driving ships up on the sharp cliffs.

Also, with it’s richness in mythology, this book drives me to the most pleasant form of research, inspiring me to take breaks to read up on manticores, selkies, lamias and leucrottas and investigating the world of medevial bestiaries.

The recommendaton to read the two volumes rather closely together is sound. Many threads are weaving all these stories together, and even back to back, a lot of page flipping occured. Really, caling these short story collections is probably wrong. This is just as much a giant, sprawling novel. Towards the end though,a thousand pages later, a certain over-satuation starts to show. I find I lose patience a little bit with the last dozen or so of new stories tossed into the mix, and find myself longing for conclusion – and a growing interest in the frame story of the orphan girl with the story ink around her eyes and the prince who warily befriends her. When that one is finally brought home it is in a lovely way, if perhaps not totally unexpected.

Recommended to anyone with an interest in fantasy, mythology, metafiction and fairy tales. Read them closely together – but I would perhaps on a reread allow a pinch of breathing space, a light book or two, in the middle. ( )
1 vote GingerbreadMan | Jan 22, 2014 |
Oh my. What to say about this. It's folklore. It's bizarre. It's different than anything I've read and likely different than anything I will read. It was truly a magical experience. The prose is completely fascinating and mesmerizing. It may very well be too far over the top for many people's taste - I don't know. I know I'll be reading both of these again, and again. I'm going to extract phrases from these, have them done very nicely in calligraphy, frame them, and hang them on the walls. ( )
  Yona | May 2, 2013 |
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For Sarah, who, when she was older, wanted the World.
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The paths of the Garden were wet with fallen apples and red with their ruptured skin.
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"I speak the tongues of death," she whispered, her voice mingling with the wind. "I am translated, and I do not know myself, save that I have become what I have eaten, and it has become me."
It is the first thing I remember, the lonely shore and the ferry. And the bones and the lizards -- we are all translated on these shores, and I am sure I don't understand it, but there is a kind of poetry in metamorphosis.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 055338404X, Paperback)

Catherynne M. Valente enchanted readers with her spellbinding In the Night Garden. Now she continues to weave her storytelling magic in a new book of Orphan’s Tales—an epic of the fantastic and the exotic, the monstrous and mysterious, that will transport you far away from the everyday….

Her name and origins are unknown, but the endless tales inked upon this orphan’s eyelids weave a spell over all who listen to her read her secret history. And who can resist the stories she tells? From the Lake of the Dead and the City of Marrow to the artists who remain behind in a ghost city of spice, here are stories of hedgehog warriors and winged skeletons, loyal leopards and sparrow calligraphers. Nothing is too fantastic, anything can happen, but you’ll never guess what comes next in these intimately linked adventures of firebirds and djinn, singing manticores, mutilated unicorns, and women made entirely of glass and gears. Graced with the magical illustrations of Michael Kaluta, In the Cities of Coins and Spice is a book of dreams and wonders unlike any you’ve ever encountered. Open it anywhere and you will fall under its spell. For here the story never ends and the magic is only beginning….

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:22 -0400)

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