A Book of Wonders for Grown-Up Readers

Every once in a great while a book comes along that reminds us of the magic spell that stories can cast over us–to dazzle, entertain, and enlighten. Welcome to the Arabian Nights for our time–a lush and fantastical epic guaranteed to spirit you away from the very first page….

Secreted away in a garden, a lonely girl spins stories to warm a curious prince: peculiar feats and unspeakable fates that loop through each other and back again to meet in the tapestry of her voice. Inked on her eyelids, each twisting, tattooed tale is a piece in the puzzle of the girl’s own hidden history. And what tales she tells! Tales of shape-shifting witches and wild horsewomen, heron kings and beast princesses, snake gods, dog monks, and living stars–each story more strange and fantastic than the one that came before. From ill-tempered “mermaid” to fastidious Beast, nothing is ever quite what it seems in these ever-shifting tales–even, and especially, their teller. Adorned with illustrations by the legendary Michael Kaluta, Valente’s enchanting lyrical fantasy offers a breathtaking reinvention of the untold myths and dark fairy tales that shape our dreams. And just when you think you’ve come to the end, you realize the adventure has only begun….
I was drawn to this book from the first time I saw it. It has a wonderful cover that you cannot help paying attention to. They say not to judge a book by the cover, but sometimes covers are so eye-appealing you want the book just so it can grace your shelf and add some colour. Couple that with the fact that the recycled paper look gives the book a bit more of an older feel, it makes for a wonderful first impression of an author that I have never read before. So, of course, now the true test is whether the book is a decent read or not.

On to the premise. When I read the back of the book I was interested simply by the fact that they are marketing it as "A Book of Wonders for Grown-Up Readers". I am quite fond of novels of the fairy tale variety, so I was interested to see what this book had in store for me. Normally to read a really good fairy tale novel, I tend to have to read young adult books, but this one was marketed for an older audience. And, the style that it was written in is perfect for the type of novel it is. Fairy tales got there beginning as oral tales, with someone remembering all the stories and either passing them on through the family or traveling around and telling tales at towns. It was not until people like the Grimm Brothers that fairy tales were transformed from oral tales to written ones. This novel is written, of course, but one of the main characters is telling the stories to a young prince. Her tales are not written down in a conventional manner, but she was born to know them.

This is the story of a lonely girl who has found herself on the outskirts of civilization. People fear her and generally avoid her, so she spends her childhood being raised by nature in the garden. It is a young boy that befriends her. He believes that since he is a prince he needs to prove his bravery, so he seeks her out. His family is not supportive of his sneaking away, and his sister will do most anything to see him not be able to slip from her sight. He is addicted to the stories, though, and finds many ways to have them continue. She transports him, and thus the reader, to amazing worlds of fantastic creatures and wonderful adventures. It is really two novels in one, so you get the chance to read two novels for the price of one. The best thing about the second book is when pieces left unfinished in the first story found their way into the second.

I loved this book! Catherynne is a fantastic world creator and I cannot wait to read the next book! I ordered it today, actually, as it came out on October 30th. If anyone is looking for a book for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge next year, I recommend this one!

To learn more about this book head on over to Random House.


Okay, you just made me decide that I'm going to read this book. I keep hearing about Catherynne Valente at Endicott Redux, and the things they say about her make her sound like an author I'd really like, but... I tried a few of her short stories, and I just couldn't get into her writing style. I will give her another try with this novel, though. Thanks for the great review!

You are right, she does have a bit of a different writing style. I just liked the subject matter enough to overlook it, I think.

I have had this one on my wishlist for a really long time- ever since going to Egypt, actually. I didn't know there was a sequel.

I didn't know her writing style was "different," though. Don't know how I feel about that ;-)

This one would be great for the next Once Upon a Time Challenge, and since I really like Kaluta's work, getting this copy with the illustrations sounds wonderful.

I think you would like it Carl. I think some people might not because she sort of writes it to give the impression someone is telling an oral story. It makes the writing a bit different than your regular literature, but I quite enjoyed it. I have the sequel here. I am not sure if I will squeeze it in soon or hold off until the next Once Upon a Time Challenge. Decisions, decisions!

I just stumbled upon your blog and it is awesome.

I can't wait to see what you think of Chronicles of the Necromancer. I read that awhile ago (tore through it is a bit more accurate).

I read this last year and loved it!! I have the next in the series, In the Cities of Coins and Spice waiting for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

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Since I was a little girl I have been fascinated with books. Early photos show me with a book in hand, even if it was not exactly my reading level... My first word was a made-up word meaning 'book', actually. I suppose I had my priorities at an early age... Over the years my interest in books has become one of the defining features of who I am as a person. You can probably call me a bookworm. While I have other interests, reading will always be the one I talk about the most, even if I am not focusing on it as much as I used to.