Review – Six-Gun Snow White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review – Palimpsest

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

Review – The Melancholy of Mechagirl

Cover of The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Melancholy of Mechagirl, Catherynne M. Valente

The Melancholy of Mechagirl is a selection of Valente’s stories and poetry. As usual with Valente, I have the problem that I love her writing, but not always the substance. The poetry was too busy being strings of pretty words that I didn’t really get the sense out of it; some of the short stories felt so ornate they felt like they were more for show than to really be handled. I know this is my preference here — other people dig through Valente’s prose happily — and I even like it because of that ornateness, in some ways. If I want to see someone being magical with words, I’ll open up one of Valente’s books and find it.

That’s not to say that she’s bad at characters and plot, per se. These stories often draw on folklore, particularly Japanese folklore, and collected like this it’s also apparent that they’re deeply rooted in Valente’s own life, as well. Her time in Japan affected her deeply, and every story holds its footprints. Some of these are really cleverly done, and for plot, ‘Silently and Very Fast’ is great. I love her story of an AI slowly learning about the world, the family and the AI wrapped around each other. Elefsis works as a character, and that ending works really well.

Finally, the title definitely captures the predominant feeling of this collection. ‘Melancholy.’ That’s not to say it’s depressing to read, but it definitely feels written in the minor key (if you’ll let me mix my metaphors).

Rating: 4/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday is “top ten books you’re looking forward to in 2015”. Now, I actually don’t keep a very good track of this, so I might not manage the full ten, but we’ll see how I do…

  1. Jo Walton, The Just CityYeah, I know I have an eARC and I’ve borrowed someone else’s ARC, but I’m still looking forward to it being out and getting to discuss it more widely.
  2. Maria V. Snyder, Shadow StudyMore Yelena! I still need to do my reread, but these are totally my popcorn books and it’ll be nice to have more to look forward to. I might actually manage to read the Avry trilogy when I know there’s more awaiting me…
  3. V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of MagicI don’t know that much about it, but it sounds awesome, and I keep being recommended Schwab’s work.
  4. Joe Abercrombie, Half a World. I still need to get round to reading Half a King, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy it, and this is another in the same world.
  5. Catherynne M. Valente, RadianceFrom reading the summary, I’m not quite sure about it, but I adore Valente’s way with words, so it’s going to be worth a try.
  6. Naomi Novik, UprootedI remember enjoying the Temeraire books, and I love reading retellings of myths/legends/folktales/fables, so this sounds right up my street.
  7. N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season. Gimme! Gimme!
  8. Marie Brennan, The Voyage of the Basilisk. I need to read the second book, but still. Still. Badass Victorian lady!
  9. Nicole Burstein, Othergirl. Just spotted this on someone else’s list of upcoming 2015 books. Sounds like fun, and there’s superpowers, sooo. I’m a sucker, I know.
  10. Brandon Sanderson, Firefight. Another one where I still need to read the previous book, but shush. Superpowers!

Oof, I managed it. What’s anyone else looking forward to?