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review 2017-09-17 23:30
Review: In the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales Book 1 of 2)
In the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales, #1) - Catherynne M. Valente

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 stories takes up about half of the book.  Within each story, some of the characters tell other stories.  Within those stories, somebody tells another story.  These stories often tell the backstory of a particular character, so you’re sort of gaining more and more history, going backwards in time as you go forward in the book.  Periodically, the book returns to the higher layers to continue those stories, and then it possibly goes back into the same lower layers to finish incomplete stories there, or else it starts a new inner story with a new set of layers.  Some of the different branches were only moderately related, but there were lots of little connections here and there which were fun to watch for.


Sound confusing?  It really wasn’t.  The first main story never went more than 5 layers deep.  The second main story went up to 7 layers deep a couple times.  When I first realized the structure of the book, I was a little worried that I would get confused, so I started checking myself each time the story went into a deeper layer, recounting to myself the steps that had led there.  I was always able to do so quickly and without confusion, and I think that process helped me keep it all straight in my head.  I could see where some people might find this book disorienting, though.  For me, it may have helped that this type of thought process is part of my day job as a programmer; I kept making comparisons to it while I was reading.  Reading this was kind of like keeping track of the call stack while reading or debugging a program as it progresses forward and backward through layers of subroutines. 


The stories all borrow heavily from fairy tales.  This was especially noticeable to me since I had read through The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales earlier this year.  It really isn’t a retelling of any of those stories, but there were lots of little nods, sometimes with similarities and sometimes with twists, and with the tiniest hint of satire.  Unlike many of the Grimm’s tales, however, this book was internally consistent, the characters’ actions made sense, and it never felt silly. 


I do still have a little bit of Fairy Tale Fatigue from the Grimm’s book though, so that might have impacted my enjoyment of some of the stories.  Some layers were more interesting than others, so the book didn’t always hold my interest, which is the main reason I’m not rating it higher.


Next Book

In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente, the sequel to this book.

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text 2014-04-14 20:32
In the Night Garden - Catherynne M. Valente
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There - Ana Juan,Catherynne M. Valente
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making - Catherynne M. Valente
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two - Catherynne M. Valente,Ana Juan

SO ! And let's make that a resolute so. I'm bored of drama taking over the place, let's speak of something nice and moderately smart from now on. I come bearing delightfulness for you guys and gals !


Let me explain : I haven't read any of Catherynne M. Valente's books yet, but for those of you who did, and enjoyed it, and for other curious people (I know you're out there, peeking), I have a nice little something to share, because I'm such a nice person in a generous mood today.


That was a joke, just in case you couldn't tell. Hi joke.


Okay, no, serious.


Hmm hmm. 




Now, who knows SJ Tucker? Whoever does, you're my friend already. Hi ! SJ Tucker is  a totally nice, fun, brilliant, terrific, groovy singer, as well as a bewitching storyteller. Booklikes is giving me trouble with the goodness sharing thing, but google her, in fact : here

and here

and here


The first link is her music cd of stuff she wrote and sings, inspired by and dedicated to the Fairyland series. The other links are audio she made with both readings and songs for The Orpan's Tales.


Give the readings a try even (especially !) if you're not into that audio book kind of thing. Her voice is chocolate, velvet and spice. I wouldn't put that together in a recipe, but you get the picture, yeah ?


Here's to hoping SJ puts a smile on your lips.



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review 2014-02-10 02:12
In the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales #1) by Catherynne M. Valente
In the Night Garden - Catherynne M. Valente

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 a curious prince: peculiar feats and unspeakable fates that loop through each other and back again to meet in the tapestry of her voice. Inked on her eyelids, each twisting, tattooed tale is a piece in the puzzle of the girl's own hidden history.

And what tales she tells! 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. 


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 difficult story.

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review 2014-02-09 13:11
In the Night Garden - Catherynne M. Valente

I'm going to start with a digression. I love John Sayles movies. Adore them. And once you've seen them all, you can see a progression in his technique of interlocking stories about communities instead of individuals. Lone Star is the epitome of this, effortlessly moving back and forth in space and time to create one of the masterful pieces of storytelling I've ever seen in my entire life.

But of course, he couldn't start there. There are earlier movies, where you can see it in its formative stages, where it's not quite so assured, where he almost loses that strong line of storytelling that makes Lone Star hang together. City of Hope is a great example of this. It's good, but there are moments when the stories almost fly apart, when he almost falls off the tightrope he's walking across. But he needed those movies, I'd guess, to figure out how to do this.

That's kind of the way I feel about In the Night Garden. 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.

Which is too bad, because this is exactly the sort of book I would expect to love. And while the way the storytelling didn't quite hold together didn't ruin the experience, it is a sign, I think, of a technique in its beginning stages, which I think I see come to fuller fruition in later books.

It's all about fairy tales. It's about storytelling. It's, at times, a gloriously messy tapestry of interlocking and nested stories, weaving back and forth between them. And if at times, the threads get tangled and don't hold together, if I can't keep all these stories in my mind and lose connections, well, that's not the end of the world. But it feels like she's so close to a masterpiece and comes away with merely a really enjoyable book.

In the Night Garden begins with a bit of an Arabian Nights tinge to it - a  young prince in a castle sneaks out every night to the garden to hear the stories of a young girl who others call a demon. Her stories are not discrete units - each dovetails into the next, and each of her narrators runs into other storytellers in turn. Stories are nested, come partway out, dive back, and later stories dovetail in interesting ways.

A necromancer is a villain of many of the early stories, and the myths of how the stars came to be, and how they might still be around, and what grace could be given by or stolen from them. A city with competing religions that existed in harmony faced down an invading army, and a woman went looking for the saint she was named after. Bears turned to men, girls to birds, and nothing was ever quite what it seemed.

Each individual story is really good. There are just too many to keep straight, and times when she tried to draw them together and it worked and times when I couldn't remember what she was referring to and it fell a little flat. But it's a valiant effort, and a thoroughly enjoyable book, if you can let go of needing to fit it all together.

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review 2013-08-14 00:00
The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden
In the Night Garden - Catherynne M. Valente

4.5 Stars


A young girl born with eyes rimmed in black is banished to the palace garden to live out her life. However, when a young prince befriends her, she weaves magical interwoven tales, enchanting and enthralling him.


To describe In the Night Garden is an almost impossible task. It’s a collection of stories at once Arabian Nights and fairy tales and none of those things. The book is split into two larger tales, but each story spawns another story, and each interconnected, not only to the story before, but to other stories and the other tale. It is at once homage to legends and myths and fairy tales, yet at the same time, deconstructs the things we take for granted in those tales (especially with gender, race, and sexuality). There is so much in this book – so many characters, so many stories, so many plots – it takes a while to read. Valente’s fantastic imagination is shown off, as is her heartbreaking insights and dark humor. She draws from many different cultures and traditions to create her own diverse world where the stories occur. And like anything Valente, the world is so unique and fully fleshed out, it’s amazing. Each story is like pulling back layers on the world and a larger story. Her ability to change her authorial voice to each speaker of a story is impressive and really sells the multiple layers to the story(ies).


The reason why I didn’t feel this book was up to the standards of Deathless or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland… is because neither tale in In the Night Garden was as distinctive nor had the sense of completion of Valente’s other works. Both tales left something wanting. One tale was more traditional, but tied all the loose ends up at the end; while the other, more unique in its subject matter, left some story threads incomplete. The ending is rather abrupt, like the book was chopped off at the end. Of course, there is a second volume and maybe both need to be read as a complete book.


While In the Night Garden isn’t my favorite Valente, it’s still a Valente, which means it is leaps and bounds above most fantasy fiction out there. Unique worlds, fantastic characters and creatures, subverted folklore, humor, heartbreak – what more could you ask for?

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