Sunday, June 28, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (V)

I looked for U authors, but like Q it doesn't seem to be a popular letter for authors. As a result this entry is for V.

I love this picture of Catherynne M. Valente, commonly referred to as Cat by her fans. This just seems to capture a lot of the author, mysterious and playful at the same time.

Valente first came to wider public notice in 2006, with the release of her two volume series The Orphan's Tales. The first volume garnered her the James Tiptree Jr. award and the series won the Mythopoeic award in 2008. She followed it up with Palimpsest, which was nominated for the 2010 Hugo. It didn't win, but it established Cat Valente as one of the most genre bending authors in the field. Valente puts a bit of everything into her work.

After Palimpsest she began a trilogy called A Dirge for Prester John, despite her prolific output, the unfortunate demise of the series' publishers; Night Shade, has meant the 3rd volume remains unpublished. However she has released a version of Kotschei the Deathless, called Deathless and won awards for her novellas Silently and Very Fast and Six-Gun Snow White.

It was Palimpsest that lead to her greatest commercial success thus far and probably her most accessible series of novels. That book mentions a fictional children's book called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making.

The idea of that book fired Valente's imagination and that of her fans enough that she published a version of it online. It was successful and led to a printed version. Thus far the Fairyland series has spawned 3 sequels (The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two and the Boy Who Lost Fairyland), there's also a prequel (The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For a Little While) There is a 5th book due out, but it doesn't have a title or a release date as yet.

Cat's Radiance, another genre bender, is due out sometime in 2015.

Cat Valente keeps an active website at, which contains her thought provoking blog as well as a bio and details about her fiction. She also tweets as @catvalente.

My introduction to Valente's work was Palimpsest, which is where readers first heard about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I, like many others, was intrigued about the book, which is described as a classic fairytale. Cat managed to get the project crowd funded and online, the buzz generated by that saw a print version arrive.

I was enchanted by this book from the start. It's totally unlike anything else the author has done, other than her amazing facility with words and language and general. If anyone wants to know how to really use language and concepts I advise them to read Catherynne M. Valente, and take notice of what she does, not just in the Fairyland books, but all her work actually. 

The book is told in an old fashioned way, with a narrator telling the readers about young September, whisked from Omaha during WW II by the Green Wind - a Harsh Air on his leopard to Fairyland. In Fairyland, the girl will meet all sorts of fascinating characters from the Wyverary (sort of a cross between a library and a kind of dragon) A through L (Ell for short) to the Marquess, whose iron fist has ruled Fairyland until September's arrival.

It can be enjoyed on a number of levels and is therefore cross generational. Kids love September and Ell, and older readers find delight in the way Valente uses language and concepts and makes them dance to her tune.

I rated it an instant classic the first time I read it, and I still do. It will be remembered and celebrated for a long time to come.

Further and related reading: as I stated in my bio of Cat Valente she has quite a body of work. Fairytales and different treatments of them are something she often comes back to, and all her work is different and pushes the boundaries of what we regard as genre. If anyone has an interest in Fairyland then Palimpsest is worth a read to see where it all began.

Fairyland owes a lot to those that went before it, and it makes me think of Alice in Wonderland and to a lesser extent Oz (another girl who was whisked away from her dreary home and existence by the wind). I see elements of Tove Jansson's Moominland and Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth in it. Despite the influences it remains something unique on it's own, but those listed works hold up quite well next to it.

I have a few W's, and I think it may be my most successful letter for a while, it may also be my last unless I can find some X, Y and Z authors.

1 comment:

  1. The Fairyland books are such beautiful books, and the language and descriptions used in them!

    The first would be my favourite of the series (so far), and the second is my least favourite, mostly becuase I didn't like the Beneath versions of Ell and Saturday.
    Looking forward to the final book in the series, whenever it's available.

    I did read her Six-gun Snow White last year, but I didn't really enjoy it. Maybe becuase I'm not a huge American history fan, and Snow White isn't a favourite fairytale too.