The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice : In the Cities of Coin and Spice
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....
The second and concluding volume of Tiptree Award-winner Valente's Orphan's Tales (after 2006's In the Night Garden), structured as a series of nested stories, is a fairy tale lover's wildest dream come true. A mysterious orphan girl, whose eyelids are darkly tattooed with the closely packed words from a seemingly endless number of fantastical tales, lives secretly in a palace garden. The girl shares her stories with the enthralled young heir to the Sultanate, who returns again and again to hear incredible yarns about one-armed heroes, hunchbacked ferrymen, giants, voracious gem eaters, conniving hedgehogs, harpies, djinns and singing Manticores. But with the wedding of the prince's sister Dinarzad (a not-so-subtle homage to The Arabian Nights) quickly approaching and harsh reality encroaching on the surreal garden, the orphan girl's stories finally run out. Cleverly examining and reconstructing the conventions of the fairy tale, especially the traditional roles of men and women, Valente has created a thought-provoking storytelling tour de force. (Nov.)
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October 28, 2007
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Excerpt from The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente
The paths of the Garden were wet with fallen apples and red with their ruptured skin. Rag-clothed winds trailed over grass blanched of green; scarlet swallowed up the thrashing trees until all the many groves stood in long rows like bouquets of bloody flowers with long, black stalks.
It was the girl's favorite time--food was never so easy to find, and the air was filled all through day and night with the flapping and fluttering of wings as crows circled south and geese fled even farther into the warm belly of the world. In the autumn her skirt was always full of pomegranates and grackle-eggs, and though the air was colder, the leaves' color did not lie, and they warmed her like a fire beneath a squat iron pot.
It was from the blazing boughs of a cinnamon tree that she saw through the high windows of the women's quarters in the palace. Her palms were henna-dusted by the perfumed bark, and she sucked the last of the morning's golden yolk from her fingers, now flavored with spice. She kept well behind the skein of leaves as she looked through the arched window, at the woman sitting within, her back straight as an ax-handle, and so still, though hands flashed over her and voices clicked and hushed in her pretty ears. A dozen maids held the woman's long black hair out taut, and slowly, with infinite patience, threaded tiny white pearls onto the inky strands, one by one, as though the woman were a necklace in a jeweler's workshop.
Dinarzad was to be wed.
Surely one or two of the Sultan's daughters were married every year, and the girl paid them much less attention than she did the family of doves that returned to the same birch trees each spring--but she could not help knowing of this one. Gardener and groundskeeper talked of nothing else: Flowers were coaxed and coddled long past their blooming, trees trained to canopies, fruits culled in great piles, like many-colored snowdrifts, and sent wagon by wagon to the kitchens, only to return to the courtyard as pies and pastries and jams and cakes--for Dinarzad wished to be married in the Garden.
It was unseemly, to be married without a roof over one's head, but she had insisted, even wept, and finally it was decided that a roof of trees was not in its nature different from a roof of wood, and the delicate copse of chestnuts before the great courtyard had had their branches lashed and tied and dragged into the shape of a small, narrow chapel. As they climbed their ladders to wheedle and prune the trees into holiness, the gardeners grumbled to the girl that she ought to be especially careful not to be seen, since the Palace was leaking out of its walls for the pleasure of a spoilt amira.
In her deep blue cushions, Dinarzad stared into the mirror as she was strung with pearls for the engagement feast, implacable, canvas-blank--and the girl stared into the princess. Still as an owl, she watched the women whose hands were full of the white jewels, watched the decorated Dinarzad like a tall mirror, until the pearl-keepers led their charge away down the stone stairs, her hair trailing behind her like a shred of sky glittering with stars. The girl touched her own hair without meaning to, hair no less black than the other woman's, but tangled and strung through with hazel-husks.
Below her, the tree shook suddenly, and she was shaken from her contemplation of Dinarzad's unmovable face. She glanced down to the apple-smattered path, and saw the boy staring up at her. He grinned sidelong at her, but his mouth was tired at the edges, like a slice of orange beginning to brown. She scrambled lightly down the trunk and gave him a smile small as a secret. The boy was dressed for the feast and obviously uncomfortable in stiff gold fabric and green silks, uncomfortable, especially, with the thin band of porphyry circling his wrist, which marked him to anyone who cared for such codes as the heir to the Sultanate.
The girl did not care. But she allowed that it was a lovely shade of purple.
"How did you get away?" she asked softly. "Surely everyone will want to squeeze your arms and tell you what a fine man you're growing up to be."
The boy snorted like a half-grown bull. "At a wedding, the girl on the dais is the only thing anyone cares to squeeze. It's the same at every dinner until the wedding."
"Who is marrying her?" She did not want to be interested. She told herself she was not.
at his rich vest and looking curiously at the girl.
on the mound, shivering in the rain