Tag: Catherynne M. Valente


Review – The Refrigerator Monologues

Posted 8 August, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 9 Comments

Cover of The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Refrigerator Monologues, Catherynne M. Valente, Annie Wu

If you’re not into comics, you might not know about the trope of “women in refrigerators”, recognised by Gail Simone. Basically, it involves female characters who are killed off to further a male hero’s story — like Alexandra DeWitt, who is literally shoved in a refrigerator to die for the manpain of Green Lantern. Catherynne Valente takes a bunch of those stories and lets the women speak for themselves. If you like working it out, don’t worry; I won’t spoil which women are included in the line-up.

It’s a fun bunch of stories; they don’t end well for the women involved, because that’s the set-up here, and there’s a certain amount of rage at how this shit keeps on happening in Superhero Land (not to mention everywhere else as well). So if you’re looking for a transformative work that changes these stories, that’s not what this is. For now, it just gives the women voices; lets them tell their half of the story.

I enjoyed it a lot, and I’ll be looking out for a copy just to have — I borrowed the copy I read. The art included is pretty cool too (though this is a prose work, not a comic).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Radiance

Posted 7 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Radiance by Catherynne M. ValenteRadiance, Catherynne M. Valente

What can I say about this book? I just finished it and I feel a little dizzy, drunk on words and possibilities. I don’t know what to make of it, and I don’t even really care. It served up so many questions, so many mysteries, and yet I found it entirely satisfying anyway — even though the ending still leaves a question mark.

Valente’s writing is beautiful, as ever. The mixture of media she uses — scripts, transcripts, diaries — let her really indulge in it, play with words and throw ideas around like splashes of colour. It rubs off on you; I’ll be writing like Valente for at least a week now, like a kid trying on their mother’s high heels. Not sure it really suits me, but playing with the idea all the same.

I can’t tell you about this book; I can’t explain it with anything other than a handful of impressions. I think I want to read it again. It worked for me; it might not work for you. I’m sure there are people it will leave entirely cold, and I might’ve been one of them, on a different day. Today Valente drew me in and had me eating it up: her black-and-white movie world, her sparkling and astonishingly fertile worlds out there in space, the Mars and Venus and Jupiter of bygone sci-fi. Another day, the profligacy of plot and imagery and illusions to mythology and imagination might have turned me off.

Try it and see.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Bread We Eat in Dreams

Posted 15 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Bread We Eat in Dreams, Catherynne M. Valente

If you’re a fan of Catherynne M. Valente’s work, then you probably know what to expect: prose that touches poetry at times, often an influence of Japanese folklore, strange dream-like logic… This is a wide-ranging collection which includes some stories I read elsewhere, or could’ve read elsewhere, like the Fairyland novella about Mallow. The writing is generally beautiful; that’s never really something I doubt with Valente. The choice of stories is also generally good, even though I have encountered some of them in multiple other collections.

It’s probably most worthwhile for the pretty cover and for people who either haven’t read much Valente and want a sampler, or people who read everything she writes and don’t want to miss anything.

Confession: I mostly skipped the actual poetry. I prefer the lyricism of Valente’s prose to anything about her poetry.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home

Posted 12 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne ValenteThe Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, Catherynne M. Valente

Nooo, I don’t want it to be the end! That said, it isn’t as bad as I’d feared: it doesn’t end like Narnia, with all the magic going away in favour of allegory. Fairyland remains as real and wild and strange, and the ending as bitter-and-sweetly magical as the other books. I was a little disappointed not to see more of Hawthorn and Tam’s adventures; The Boy Who Lost Fairyland is really a one-off in going so far from September, and I’m not sure I like that I never got my answers to questions about Hawthorn and Tam and how they feel about leaving behind their human families.

The weird wonders of Fairyland continue, as beautiful and strangely perfect as ever. I want to meet most of the characters (or hide from the nastier ones). And sometimes I can’t help but feel that the narrator looks into my heart just as much as she does September’s. Especially when the hippos named after bottles from the liquor cabinet come in (if you know me, you probably know about Helen, and if you know Helen, you know my heart).

Also, Blunderbuss! I love that at least we get Blunderbuss in this one, and A-Through-L being awesome and the whole bit with the main library and the book bears and…

No, I’m probably not capable of writing a coherent review of these books. This one is just as charming as the rest, though perhaps a bit sadder, because you know it’s the last, and because various things that happen during the race to be ruler of Fairyland make you worry about the characters and whether things can ever be the same.

Oh, and some things that some characters have been waiting for since the first book finally come to pass. So all in all, it’s a very satisfying end to the series, except for the fact that nobody wants it to end. The whole series might be marketed as young adult, but I think perhaps it has more for the adult who can still dream.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Boy Who Lost Fairyland

Posted 14 February, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Boy Who Lost Fairyland, Catherynne M. Valente

I just want to eat Valente’s words. All of them. They’re like cream cakes and jam-covered scones and fairy cakes with buttercream and cookies with gooey centres still warm from the oven and… Yeah, as usual, Valente’s writing is great in The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, and I’m not sure, but I think I may well prefer it in these self-aware, charming, cheeky fairytales than in her adult novels. It’s beautiful there, too, but here it’s stripped down to suit the audience and genre, and that works really well for it.

As for the story, well. It’s not about September, really. Most of the time. It’s about another Changeling — a Changeling in the opposite direction, who finds our normal world just as strange and magical as his own, and yet… and yet he always knows something is missing, and he does want to find it. He really does. I’m just a little sad that we don’t see him being bothered about being separated from Gwendolyn, his human mother, at the end. That would have been an awesome opportunity for some of Valente’s wise words on children and hearts and home.

I didn’t, perhaps, love it quite as much as I love the books which feature September more heavily, Changeling-child as The Boy Who Lost Fairyland itself is in the series. But I did enjoy viewing everything aslant, and not once but twice — both our world and fairyland turning out to be strange to Hawthorn. (And how will he cope? Will he miss his human family? Will Tamburlaine? I hope we find out.)

And now there’s only one more book? I want it, I want it now — but I don’t want Fairyland to end, not ever.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Six-Gun Snow White

Posted 13 November, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. ValenteSix-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente
Originally reviewed 29th July, 2013

This is quite different to Valente’s other work in some ways, and very much of a piece with it in others. All good ways, I think. Her talent with words is very much apparent, but in some ways this is moderated a bit from the super-rich, super-intense poetic language in her other work. Every bit of it feels targeted: bang, bang, bang. The narrative voice is, to me, similar to that in Charles Portis’ True Grit: how well it compares in general with the rest of that genre, I wouldn’t know.

For me, this version of the story works surprisingly well. I’m not especially precious about retellings (aside from King Arthur retellings, and only then when I think someone is completely ignoring the cultural background), so I wasn’t bothered by the changes, and I loved what Valente did with this. It’s both something new and something truer to the “original” story than a lot of other versions I’ve seen.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

Posted 21 September, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Girl who Soared Over Fairyland by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, Catherynne M. Valente

At this point, if you haven’t read the first two books, I definitely don’t suggest you jump in here. If you have, then what’re you waiting for? Fairyland has more enchantment, sadness, and whimsy for you. And in this book, September gets to spend time with Ell and Saturday again — the Ell and Saturday she knew in the first book, and not their shadows.

Once again, September doesn’t go back to Fairyland; at least, not so simply and directly. We have another new setting for the friends to explore, and another new problem for September to try to solve. Or do we? There’s no Marquess or Shadow Self to defeat this time, that’s for sure. I enjoyed the setting, and stuff like the taxicrabs, and all the puffins. I’m not entirely certain what the Blue Wind is up to in this book, and it looks like we might have to wait another book to find out…

My only real criticism is that despite the lovely whimsy, there’s a bit too much of it. The plot doesn’t really get going until nearly halfway through, and instead we seem to sort of sightsee — only for things to then rush past enormously fast. But it does say gorgeous things about friendship and love and having a heart, and growing up.

Just as this was settling into a rhythm, where September goes to Fairyland in the first part, wanders about gathering allies, and then solves all the issues, this book shakes things up a bit. It does take a while to get going, but once it is, things don’t quite turn out the way September expects them to, from prior experience, and it ends differently, too. And I gather the next book shakes things up even more, with new protagonists! I don’t know how much I’ll like that, but I can’t wait to give it a try.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Posted 18 September, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M ValenteThe Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, Catherynne M. Valente

If you liked the first book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, I can’t see why you would dislike this one. The writing is of the same quality, the world is just as strange and intriguing — and there’s a lot of new things — and the characters are just as dear. Particularly Aubergine, who was the star of the book. There wasn’t enough of Ell and Saturday, but the plot with their shadows was interesting because it looked at familiar characters and the parts they didn’t show to September originally, and dealt pretty sympathetically with what it might like to be a shadow, without independent existence.

For me, the one sour note was that it began to feel very rushed in the last couple of chapters. September bounced from person to person, place to place, after a slower progression up to that point. It’s Fairyland! Of course I’d like to stop and smell the roses, and get to know just a little bit more of the many many things there are to know. The speed here, though, made it feel that little bit disjointed — I think the pacing of the first book was better.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Posted 13 September, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente

The whimsical nature of this is classically Valente; you can tell it was written by her, if you’re at all used to her style, but the style is less pronounced — it requires less concentration to be rewarding, to be enchanting. Which, given that it’s essentially a young adult book, makes sense. It’s still gorgeous, but more like cream and less like treacle.

It’s exactly as charming as the cover copy suggests. There’s a Wyvern who may or may not be the son of a library, there’s wild herds of bicycles, there’s witchery and magic and strange transformations. It’s Fairyland, as dangerous and bewitching as it should be, and not saccharine-sweet at all. It has a bit of the same tone as The Hobbit, with a definite narrator who has a personality and is telling the story direct to you, with the same lightness of touch (and much less moralising than, say, C.S. Lewis). I really like it when people are clever with their narrators, and this definitely worked for me.

There are, of course, deliberate parallels to folklore, but also to classic fantasy fiction — Narnia in particular, and it’s interesting that the main character of Fairyland has a father who is away at war, and so has that war background. Shades of the Pevensies, a little. And the antagonist’s issues, well, they seemed to me a direct commentary on the disappointments of leaving Narnia, never to return.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Palimpsest

Posted 21 August, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Palimpsest by Catherynne M. ValentePalimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente
Originally reviewed 2nd May, 2010

This book is beautiful. The language of it is mesmerising and enticing and sometimes cloying, there’s so much of it, it’s so thick with description and invention and ideas. I remember commenting about China Miéville’s work, and how the cities of his work almost seem to be characters themselves — I can see why people compare Palimpsest to his work, although in Palimpsest it’s more true than ever.

Reading this book is like exploring the city in the same limited way as the characters. Sometimes frustratingly: there’s a bit you want to see or understand or get to, but you can’t, not yet. You have to give it time for it to unfold.

I can understand why it has quite a lot of love-or-hate reactions. If you give it time, it’s a beguiling, rewarding book, but if you don’t have the time or the patience or the inclination, it’s impenetrable.

I didn’t really feel like I got to know the characters or the city as well as I would want to. Ordinarily, that would be a major turn-off for me, but there was enough to keep me satisfied, and the writing, the richness of the detail, was enough to compensate for the lack of my usual favourites. If there’s any criticism, it’s that the characters didn’t feel as rich and as real to me as I wanted them to — there were enchanting details about them, but I didn’t get to know them as I would like to.

Rating: 4/5

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