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The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Vol. 1 Paperback – Deckle Edge


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597801992
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597801997
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #778,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1165, a letter ostensibly written by the distant Christian king Prester John describing a kingdom of wonders rocked medieval Europe. In this enchanting retelling of the legend, the first volume in a projected trilogy, Hugo nominee Valente (Palimpsest) imagines what might have been discovered by Rome's ambassadors if the letter had not been a hoax. Nothing is quite as fabulous as the pious priests had hoped. Prester John and St. Thomas the Twin married nonhuman women; the Fountain of Youth does not sparkle, but instead "oozes thick and oily, globbed with algae and the eggs of improbable mayflies." Three very different personalities narrate: the brooding Prester John himself; his carefree and openhearted wife, the blemmye Hagia; and maternal Imtithal of the elephant-eared panotii. Filled with lyrical prose and fabled creatures, this languorous fairy tale is as captivating as Prester John's original letter. (Dec.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She has three brothers and a sister. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and camphor wilds of Japan.
She currently lives on a small island off the coast of Maine, with her partner, two dogs, and one recalcitrant cat, having tumbled back to America and the otherworldly New England coast. She has Won the James Tiptree Award, and been Nominated for the Norton Award

More About the Author

Catherynne M. Valente is an author, poet, and sometime critic who has been known to write as many as six impossible things before breakfast. She is to blame for over a dozen works of fiction and poetry, including The Orphan's Tales, Palimpsest, Deathless, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. She has won the Tiptree Award, the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award, the Lambda Award, the Rhysling Award, and the Million Writers Award for best web fiction. She lives on an island off the coast of Maine with her partner, two dogs, an enormous cat, and a slightly less enormous accordion.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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This book is a slow read.
Karissa Eckert
Valente's writing is lush and poetic, evocative and at times chilling.
Jeana Jorgensen
If you think you might enjoy it, please take a chance on it.
Estelendur

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 46 people found the following review helpful By E. McClellan on November 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
You should order this book with all haste, because it is going to blow your mind. Habitation of the Blessed is based in the medieval legend of Prester John, at the time probably the biggest hoax around. The Emperor of Constantinople got a letter from Prester John, who claimed to have converted all manner of people in a strange land somewhere between what are now India and Pakistan, full of mythic creatures and strange people, and home to the Fountain of Youth. Medieval Europe took that stuff serious; for years, people went looking for the Kingdom, and never found it.

Valente's book tells the tale of this Kingdom, but not just from John's perspective: three interlocked tales introduce us to this mythic land, instead. John's voice is there, but so is that of Hagia, a blemmy - a race of headless people whose faces are in their chests - and of Imtithal, a panoti, whose ears are big enough to wrap her entire body, and whose species eats sound. Their tales are told in three fantastical books-within-the-book, all plucked from a tree which fruits with fully grown tomes, picked and read by Brother Hiob von Luzern, a priest-sojourner on a quest to look for Prester John five hundred years after the Letter.

As usual, Valente has created something strange and rich and lavish and wonderful with these interconnected stories, a device familiar to readers of The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden or the Hugo-nominated Palimpsest.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kat Hooper VINE VOICE on December 28, 2010
Format: Audio CD
[Note: I listened to Brilliance Audio's version of The Habitation of the Blessed read by Ralph Lister. It took me a while to adjust since I have recently listened to Lister read three installments of The Gorean Saga and I at first had a hard time hearing the priest Prester John instead of the sadistic misogynist Tarl Cabot. But I got over this soon enough and thought that Mr. Lister did a great job with this one.]

In The Habitation of the Blessed, Catherynne M. Valente lets her extravagant imagination loose on the 12th century legends of Prester John, the Nestorian Christian priest who set out from Constantinople to search for the tomb of Saint Thomas and ends up as the beloved ruler of Pentexore. This is an ancient land of strange, nearly immortal, creatures who've never heard of Jesus Christ and who practice the Abir, a lottery which reassigns them to new lives, jobs, and mates every three hundred years. The Abir staves off boredom, keeps them from being forever ruled by a despot, and allows ambitious folks a chance to be ruler, though it often causes feelings of sadness, loss, and envy, too.

When Brother Hiob von Luzern goes looking for Prester John (who left Constantinople a few hundred years ago and sent his famous letter to the Pope) and finds himself in Pentexore, he's allowed to pluck and read three books that are growing from a tree as if they were fruit. One book is John's account of his search for Saint Thomas and his experiences in Pentexore:

"I could not think where I had beached myself. It was as though every story I had ever heard had broken itself on the shores of this place like blind brittle whales and I walked among their shards that could never be made whole again.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Virginia M. Judd on November 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
Once again, Catherynne Valente's lyrical prose and masterful comprehension of world mythologies come together to create a book so achingly beautiful that I didn't want to reach the end.

The fable of Prester John really was the first fake viral meme to infect the world. But unlike today's "Good Times Virus" warnings, Prester John's tale arrived in the form of a letter to the ruler of Constantinople in the 12th Century. No one has ever determined who wrote the letter, in which "John" boasted that he was both a priest and a king in a world inhabited by gryphons, unicorns, dragons and other fabulous creatures.

No one knew who he was, but everyone believed the letter. Expeditions set out in search of this mythical kingdom, and the letter influenced political policy for about 500 years.

In real life, eventually enough of the world was explored for the letter's veracity to come into doubt and its influence to fade away. In Valente's novel, though, all of it is true. Beautifully, delightfully true.

The Habitation of the Blessed is the first volume in a trinity of books called A Dirge for Prester John, and as such it is the origin story and the reader's introduction to the world. The tale is told from three points of view, each from a different time in the history of this magical kingdom: John's, his wife's, and Imthital's who is the nursemaid to the royal children. The voices and viewpoints of the three tales are distinct and well-defined, drawing out the charactbuter of the teller as much as conveying the events of the plot.

This is, by necessity, a story that draws from Biblical sources as well: Prester John is, after all, a priest. Here again, Valente's thorough grounding in all mythologies supplies resonance as she deftly turns the familiar on its head and blends it with the fantastic. The end result is far from conventional.

I anxiously await the next book in the series.
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