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The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden Paperback – Deckle Edge, October 31, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 94 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Orphan's Tales Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A lonely girl with a dark tattoo across her eyelids made up of words spelling out countless tales unfolds a fabulous, recursive Arabian Nights-style narrative of stories within stories in this first of a new fantasy series from Valente (The Grass-Cutting Sword). The fantastic tales involve creation myths, shape-changing creatures, true love sought and thwarted, theorems of princely behavior, patricide, sea monsters, kindness and cruelty. As a sainted priestess explains, stories "are like prayers. It does not matter when you begin, or when you end, only that you bend a knee and say the words," and this volume does not so much arrive at a conclusion but stops abruptly, leaving room for endless sequels. Each descriptive phrase and story blossoms into another, creating a lush, hallucinogenic effect.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The opening volume of the Orphan's Tales begins in a palace garden, where a girl has been abandoned because of the strange, ink-black stain around her eyes and over her eyelids. Because the sultan and his nobles wish to avoid the problem she presents, she is left to wander the gardens, alone until another child, a boy, comes and speaks to her. She reveals the secret of her ink-stained eyes, that they contain many tales. In return for the boy's company, she tells him stories, beginning with the tale of the prince Leander. Each succeeding story grows from the one before it, characters recounting tales they were told and even weaving them back together. There is an entire mythology in this book, in which the themes of familiar fairy tales are picked apart and rearranged into a new and wonderful whole. The narrative is a nested, many-faceted thing, ever circling back to the girl in the palace garden and the prince she is telling the tales to in a wonderful interpretation of what fairy tales ought to be. The illustrations, by Michael Kaluta, constitute an excellent supplement, reminiscent of illustrations of such fairy-tale books as Andrew Lang's, though Kaluta does no toning down for Victorian sensibilities. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Orphan's Tales (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra; 10.1.2006 edition (October 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553384031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553384031
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By frumiousb VINE VOICE on January 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
If I had followed my impulse in the first 50 pages of The Orphan's Tales, then I never would have finished the book. I was actually irritated by the book. The prose struck me as bad Tanith Lee and I just knew that the structure of the book was going to irritate me.

However, I did not stop reading. The book had been recommended strongly by someone I really respect, so I decided that I would give it an honest try. After the irritation, I was interested, and after that I was entranced. By the last few hundred pages of the book, I literally could not put it down. I read it late in 2006, but I would be willing to include it as being among my best reading experiences of the year.

Valente's prose may seem labored and precious at first, but if you give it sufficient time it settles into its own rhythm. Her diction fits beautifully with the structure of her work. Some writers who try the same kind of prose miss any sense of lightness or humor. Valente, by contrast, is as often wickedly funny in her stories as she is full of descriptive symbolism. I liked it every much in the end, and I was left with the strong sense of wanting to read more.

The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden is dark fantasy, structured as a series of interlocking stories. It should appeal to both younger and more adult readers although the themes can be quite adult. Highly recommended, particularly if you are fan of darker fantasy.
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Format: Paperback
This is Cathrynne Valente's sixth novel, and her first one with a major publisher. It is a gorgeous retelling of fairy tales--not the whitewashed, bland and Disneyfied versions that too many people have grown up believing to be the "real" versions of these tales. No, these are dark and mysterious versions where evil is not readily thwarted and salvation does not immediately equate "happily ever after."

This is not to say that the tales are dour, Hans Christian Andersen morality plays. Far from it. There is much joy and passion in the stories, but there are many surprises as well.

The Orphan of the title is a girl of noble descent who was born under an unfortunate curse - she is marked in a way that incites fear in the extensive household of the Sultan, and no one will claim her for their own. Eventually abandoned to the garden, she does not die but instead thrives, living there as a sort of spectre until a young son of the royal family stumbles upon her and she begins telling him the tales that are her destiny to tell. The story of a prince's quest is brought short by the witch he encounters, who tells her story to him, which necessarily includes the story of her teacher, and so on, tales within tales like the layers of an onion.

You will recognize the skeletons of some fairy tales beneath Valente's rich layering of interpretation. Others are obscure (the woman has done her homework) or obscured to the point of being completely fresh. There is a feminist twist to the tales, but not the kind of heavy-handed moralizing that frequently burden such retellings. Instead, the layered tales take you deeper and deeper into an amazing world that you really regret leaving upon turning the last page.
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Format: Paperback
Others have written excellent reviews on the content and style of the tales so I shall not attempt to pointlessly reinvent the wheel here. Suffice to say this book is an outstanding example of the boundless creativity of the artistic imagination. I bow to the author's genius.

There's only one point that I wish to point out: this book has a truly staggering amount of blood in it. Murder, rape, treachery, torture, human experiments, genocide, incest, patricide, even deicide... If an atrocity can be imagined, well, it is here.

I have heard it said that when the likes of Andersen and Grimm first compiled their tales of folklore and fairy tales, they had to first bowdlerize them, "scrub them clean," as it were, to make it palatable for the consumer habits of a rising European middle class. For example, in some earlier versions of Snow White, the young woman's chief antagonist is her mother, not stepmother. The Orphan's Tales is the world unscrubbed.

It's not just that magic must be paid for in blood. Here, magic literally is blood. And no, there is no other way to get blood.
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Format: Paperback
Catherynne M. Valente, The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden (Bantam, 2006)

There are, at most, a handful of writers currently working who are as much on love with the English language as Catherynne Valente. Each of her novels is a small jewel for the linguaphile, as much an experience as it is a book. Her early novels tended to run about one hundred fifty pages, and with language that demands lingering over and pondering, one hundred fifty pages seemed just about perfect. Now comes the pair of books known as the Orphan's Tales. The first of them is as long as Valente's first three novels put together (and the second longer); no surprise, then, that I ended up lingering over this book for an entire year. Actually, one day shy, to be precise about it. I can't imagine doing it any other way; this is a book that demands to be lingered over, pondered, enjoyed.

The book is told as a series of nested (very nested) fairytales; there is one large frame, concerning a girl whose body is tattooed with tales and the prince fascinated with her. Within that frame are two large stories the girls tells the prince. Within each of those are dozens of subtales, as characters within the stories tell tales (and characters within those stories... you get the idea).

The most impressive thing about the book by far is that things never get out of hand. If you get the idea of the structure here (the thing it most reminds me of, oddly, is modular bookshelves), you can probably see how easy it could be for a reader who isn't paying attention to lose his place. Despite the complexity, it never happens. Whether this is because I was just paying more attention than usual or whether it's Valente's storytelling skills I don't know. Oh, of course I do. I have the attention span of a whelk.
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