the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Catherynne M. Valente’ Category

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

published in 2018

where I got it: purchased used








Occasionally, people ask me for book recommendations.  I try to recommend something the person will like, so if they ask me to recommend something poetic, something beautifully written, something strange but glorious that gets better every time I read it, without pause I will recommend Catherynne Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed.  I will talk your ear off about this book, and it’s sequel, and the tragedy that the publisher is no longer in business so the books are no longer in print, and yadda yadda.


If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I would choose The Habitation of the Blessed.


Knowing that, doesn’t make writing this review any easier.


Artists are gonna art, people should write the book they want to read, the world needs something happy right now. Space Opera is up for a number of awards, I hope it wins some of them, for sheer uniqueness, weirdness, and unapologetic over-the-top audaciousness.


Your mileage may vary. Remember this post?  I was 50 pages into Space Opera when I wrote it.


The concept behind Space Opera is, simply,  Eurovision Song Contest, in SPAAAAAACE!!!!! All the sentient races in the galaxy participate, and every so often an upstart race is invited to participate. If said upstart race wins (or at least places decently), they are welcomed into the galactic community. If they lose, they are deemed non-sentient / a danger to the galaxy, and summarily annihilated.  This “win or die” premise is presented in rather a Douglas Adams fashion, so all feels like fun and games. But the big question remains: Does Humanity Deserve to Survive?


Representatives are sent to Earth to find humanity’s best musicians. They were hoping for Yoko Ono.  Instead, they got Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.


If you like over the top humor, if you like a narrative style that blows you off the page, if you’re looking for something really different, if you like wacky aliens and over the top descriptions, and a heartwarming ending, this book is for you!


I’m a buzzkill.  I’m a killjoy. I hit sensory overload around the time most people get out of bed in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, i get a kick out of short term sensory overload. In  the right circumstances, I quite enjoy it.  But long term sensory overload? something that puts me into overload too quickly?  It’s, um, not good.


I DNF’d this book, twice.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Grass-Cutting Sword, by Catherynne M. Valente

published in 2006

where I got it: purchased used








Before a girl circumnavigated fairyland, before John fell in love with Hagia,  before six super- heroines discussed their stories in the afterlife, and long before Space Opera, Catherynne Valente was taking the poetry and dreamyness of folklore and turning it inside out to show you the shiny bits you hadn’t known were there.


Valente’s novella, The Grass-Cutting Sword, was published in 2006, and if you come across a copy in some used bookstore somewhere, BUY IT.  (or even better, find a copy of Myths of Origin, which includes even more of Valente’s early work!) Especially if you like folklore. Especially if you like beautiful / weird / strange writing. If you enjoy C.S.E Cooney or Benjanun Sriduangkaew, you’ll love this.


In the story notes in Myths of Origin, Valente describes The Grass-Cutting Sword as “probably the most textually experimental and angriest” of her work. Yes, it is very experimental! But none of the characters seem overly angry. Driven? Absolutely. Tragic? That too.  Oh, and  as with all good fairy tales, there is a dragon and there is a sword.

The Grass-Cutting Sword is a retelling of the Japanese folktale of how the storm god Susanoo was banished from heaven by his sister Ama-Terasu. Instead of viewing it as a banishment, he takes the opportunity to seek his mother in her underground realm.  Recognized as a god by a worshipful man and woman, he undertakes the quest to save their recently abducted youngest daughter from an eight-headed serpent which has eaten the other seven daughters.


If he succeeds in the quest he has undertaken, the parents have promised him he can marry their youngest daughter as soon as he rescues her. Her parents say she is the most beautiful girl in the world, fit for an Emperor! And Susanoo wouldn’t be so insulting as to disagree, now would he?


The narrative flips back and forth between Susanoo’s point of view, and the serpent’s point of view.  Susanoo doesn’t mind hunting down the serpent, he’s not quite sure what else (other than look for the entrance to his mother’s realm) he’s supposed to do on Earth anyways.



As he travels the countryside looking for signs of the serpent, he tells the reader the story of creation – how his parents lived on an island surrounded by jellyfish, how his mother created the islands of Japan, how her fiery child was the last she would give birth to. Susanoo tells of his own creation, and that of his sister Ama-Terasu and his brother Tsuki-Yomi.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Habitation of the Blessed, by Catherynne M. Valente

where I got it:  purchased new

published in 2010










I first read and reviewed Catherynne M. Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed in 2011, and it blew my mind. I had no idea jeweled prose like this existed, I had no idea stories could be told like this. I didn’t know an author could do these things in a novel. I remember trying to give someone a 30-second elevator pitch about this book, and I knew I couldn’t boil the entire book down into a few sentences so I simply said something like Have you ever come across a metaphor that wasn’t a metaphor, it was the truth? That’s this book. The person looked at me like I was crazy, but I think I did Habitation justice with that pitch.

This is a hard book for me to talk about, because reading it has become a sort of religious experience for me. Not religious in the way of temples or praying or god or heaven or any of that stuff, but religious in the way of looking up at the night sky, seeing the Milky Way, and feeling very small and realizing you had no idea the universe and everything in it could be this beautiful and understanding that you are a part of that beauty, you are in it, you are of it. Religious like that.

I don’t so much talk about this book as fan-girl about it.

The blurb on the back of the book reads:

“This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?”

I call it a “surface plot”, because this is not a book about some simple plotline. Is a book about the power of story, the power of time, the power of faith, and the beauty of being destroyed and created by those powers.

Prester John had originally been on a mission to find the grave of Thomas the Apostle when he found instead the land of Pentexore, and five hundred years later, Brother Hiob is on a mission to find the possibly immortal Prester John. Where Hiob’s journey ends, he finds a tree. A tree whose fruit are books. Hiob is allowed to pluck three books from the tree, and he finds to his luck one of the books is in the voice of Prester John himself. The second is from John’s wife Hagia, and the third is from the famous storyteller Imtithal. No matter how fast Hiob and his assistant copy and transcribe, the books turn to rot faster. The residents of Pentexore may have had immortality, but it only takes hours for their stories to decompose. (and what does it mean when someone’s story dies?)

Read the rest of this entry »

speak easySpeak Easy, by Catherynne M. Valente

publishes August 31, 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Subterranean!)




Speak Easy is a jazz age retelling of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses (a tale you’re familiar with if you’ve read Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at The Kingfisher Club).  Told in a series of vignettes that follow the residents of the hotel Artemesia, we watch as they each see something they want, and are lured to go after it. The final twist, however, involves a magic far older than the Brothers Grimm originally imagined.

The words that best describes this novella are sculptural and musical. The short chapters are titled with the room numbers in which the characters reside. It’s as if, with each vignette, with each character introduction and peek into their lives, Valente is carving the story, word by word and room by room out of a massive, hotel shaped slab of marble. It’s like those ancient temples that have been carved out of stone or into cliff faces. Someone had to carve out all those rooms. Just like Valente is carving out the rooms of the hotel residents. One of the first rooms we visit is the infamous 1550, home of Zelda Fair, Olive Bay, Opal Lunet and Oleander Coy. Four women who live by their own set of rules, share their apartment with a pelican, and keep their own secrets.  Although Speak Easy is an ensemble piece, Zelda quickly becomes the celestial body that other characters orbit.

I also mentioned the word musical,didn’t I? It’s the voice of the narrator. Confident, cheeky, and bordering on scat singing, the narrator is having a conversation with the reader, luring you in, teasing you with slang, entendres, and bawdy jokes. The narrator can tell you who in this hotel is sleeping with someone they aren’t married to, wouldn’t you like know what other juicy secrets she might be enticed to share?

Read the rest of this entry »



I was maybe 20 pages in Six Gun Snow White when I wrote this in an e-mail to a friend:  “spending the morning of my first vacation day reading Cat Valente’s “Six Gun Snow White”.  the words are so pretty i am afraid if I touch them they will shatter into a million pieces and i will never hear the end of the story . . .  e-book words will surely be flatter and soulless, they won’t respond to my petting. might be safer that way.”  Those words on those pages, they were pretty, but they were also knife tip sharp, and with every page they clawed their way into me.


If you’re familiar with Catherynne Valente, you already know what she does with words. And if you’ve read other reviews I’ve written of her work, you might know what her words do to me. With every word I read, with every page I turn, a creature takes shape. Something that flies and dreams and takes me with it, a dragon made of velveteen words, and as you read those words, and caress those scales, the dream creature’s shape becomes clearer, this is what you’ve been looking for all this time. And the story is the breath of that dragon.


See?  reading Cat Valente makes me talk in ways my vocabulary can’t support.


So, “Six Gun Snow White”. No dragons to be found here.  Only a child who is forced to find her own way.  Valente takes the traditional Snow White story, and plunges it into the American frontier, the mines of the Dakotas, the mythologies of the Native Americans. A white man takes a crow woman as wife, and a baby daughter is born. For reasons unknown but guessed, the man treats his own flesh and blood daughter as an adopted ward, a novelty native girl, someone the maid can dress in doe skin and trot out for visitors to view and ask “is she real?” “Where did you find her?”.  The girl learns how to read, write, and be silent.  The name she uses for her father is Mr. H. He doesn’t treat her poorly, or unkindly, he simply doesn’t treat her like anything at all. She doesn’t know any better, she thinks this is love.  And then he gets married again.


The new wife, Mrs. H., sees this dark haired, dark skinned girl in braids and leather, and decides to make her into a true lady. Everything that makes the little girl what she is, Mrs. H destroys, even her name.  To remind the child of everything pure she’ll never be, Mrs. H. bestows on her the name Snow White. And she doesn’t know any better, so she tries to tell herself that being treated like this is what love is. This is the point you’ll start to recognize the original fairy tale, and this is also where Snow (who doesn’t remember her own name) takes the story in her own hands and refuses to allow it to be told in anyway except hers.  Mrs. H is a witch, and Snow can only take so much.

Read the rest of this entry »

Scattered throughout the month, I’ll be posting reviews of selected stories of The Book of Apex: Volume 4 of Apex Magazine.  If something you read here or on any of the other blogs participating in the blog tour gets your attention, I encourage you seek the story out on the Apex website. And if you like what you see? Consider purchasing a subscription to the magazine, or one of their anthologies.  Consider leaving a comment on their website, or on twitter, or on the blog post. You’ve got an opinion and thoughts? I’d like to hear ‘em.

What I love about the fiction published by Apex is that it’s not straight up scifi, or straight up fantasy, or straight up anything, really. It’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that. It’s true fantastika. Stories that can’t possibly happen in real life, but as you are reading, you so very much *want* it to be happening.  The ultimate in suspension of disbelief. Many of your favorite authors have been published in Apex magazine, along with new authors who are soon to become favorites.  And that’s what Apex does – they take the cream of the crop of the strangest of the strange, scratching that itch you hadn’t known you had until it was relieved.

This is the stuff you can’t get anywhere else, it’s that flavor that’s part bloody sunset, part crystal constellation, part fever dream. It’s like walking into that weird little bar on the corner (you know, the one with no windows? that one.), and playing it cool. You ask the bartender what they recommend, and they bring you a pint of something dark.  You think you know what it is, but that first sip tells you this is something very different. It starts out gentle, even a little sweet, but then ends with an unexpected bite, so sharp you wonder if you’ve bit your lip because you swear you taste blood in your mouth. This is that unlabeled, brewed in the back, only available for people who ask for it by name type of drink.

The 24 Hour Brother, by Christopher Barzak – The first thing you need to know about this story is that you’re not going to get through it without crying. Lewis is excited to finally be an older brother. After the complications of Lewis’s birth, no one expected his mother to be able to carry another child to term. But a miracle happened, and little Joe was born.  but Joe didn’t stay little for long. He cut his first tooth shortly after being born. Within the hour they were chasing him around the hospital.  He’d nearly grown out of his baby clothes by the time his father caught him for the taxi ride home. Within 12 hours he was fully grown, and leaving his 15 year old older brother behind when he went out drinking.  You can see where this is going, can’t you? Joe’s mother knew, the first time she saw him, that she was going to lose him.  There’s something especially tragic about stories where you know from the opening paragraph that it’s going to end badly.  Like I said, you’re not going to get through this one without crying.

The Leavings of the Wolf, by Elizabeth Bear – Dagmar runs to get away from her divorce. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.  She runs to lose weight.  If she loses enough weight, she’ll be able to pry that wedding band off her finger, that gleaming golden reminder of everything that went horribly wrong in her life.  And interspersed with her running is a floating story line, a dialog between her and an ex. But the thing is, this extra story line? You don’t know when exactly it’s happening. Was it years ago? a few weeks ago? yesterday?   The weight of these few extra lines here and there are like the mark a wedding band leaves on your finger after years of wear: you don’t know anymore who you are without the mark.  Anyways,  on her morning run, Dagmar often sees the same murder of crows, it’s that group she’s been studying, anklebanding, and researching for the University. The crows know her, she knows the them, and she even makes the occasional Thought and Memory joke.  One day she meets someone who might be a God, it’s not a joke anymore. And he tells her why she’s still running.  We’re all running from something, and sometimes it’s only the fear of losing a mark that tells us who we thought we were supposed to be.  I’ve run hot and cold with Bear’s fiction in the past, and this one hit me hard.  In a good way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time. If you’ve been paying attention, nothing on this list will be a surprise to you.  If you happened to stumble by because you like “year end” lists,  these are my top ten speculative fiction books I read this year.  Looking for a good read? go find one of these.

Some of them are old.

Some of them are new.

Some of them were borrowed.

None of them are blue.


I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.  In no particular order:

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (1999) – the second in The Company series, this novel is told from Joseph’s point of view (and yes, Mendoza is still really, really pissed off at him). Joseph gets to do one of his favorite things – pretend to be a God. But this time, he’s got to get even the skeptics to believe his act.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (2013) – No surprise this one made it to my best of the year list, as this is one of my favorite fantasy series.  It’s true, I ranted a little about a character who really annoyed me, but holy shit, that ending??  holy shit!  Also, I do just happen to have a Cinnamon colored dress/jacket combo and a four cornered grey hat in the making.

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White (2013 )- Secret societies, multiple personalities, sublime prose, metaphysics, unexpected romance, characters that rip each other to shreds.  What more could you possibly want? I got meddled with, my switches got hit, and I never wanted it to end.  Just go read it already. Everything about this book was spot-on perfection for me.

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (1990) – only the best Culture novel of the best space opera series in existence.  Not the easiest book in the world to read, but the subtlety, and the reveal at the end, and oh god I knew something was so horribly wrong as soon as he said he was going to cut his hair. . .

Read the rest of this entry »

clarkesworld4Curious about the original fiction published by Clarkesworld?  This series of posts, reviewing every story published in Year Four should give you an idea of their flavor of speculative fiction. these stories are strange, unexpected, sometimes humorous, sometimes melancholy. Every single one of them will get some kind of reaction out of you.   Check out the Clarkesworld website to get more. Like what you see? Become a citizen of Clarkesworld, get a subscription, spread the world. Speculative Fiction ‘zines like this are a rare beast.

I’m going through Year Four in no particular order. Click to read the first, second, and third posts in this series.  In the stories in today’s post, we have virtual reality gone wrong (or maybe very, very right), reincarnations who kill their originals with the best intentions, the downside of discovering a new intelligent species, and Cat Valente has fun with creation myths.

ready? let’s go!

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Spacetime by Catherynne M. Valente – I recently had the pleasure of reading this in Valente’s latest collection, The Melancholy of Mechagirl. In that review, I didn’t go into much detail of Thirteen Ways, so I’m thrilled to have received another chance to talk about this wonderfully odd tale.

Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday my review of Catherynne M. Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl posted over at SFSignal. this is her latest collection of  short stories, novellas, and poetry, all with a connection to Japan.  Head over to SFSignal to read the review and leave any comments.



random unconnected fun story: last night a family member excitedly says that someone sent him a picture of this cute Siamese cat, but it looks grumpy, and there’s a funny caption! isn’t that cute! I reply with where have you been? go google “grumpy cat”.

it’s nice to know I’m not the only one living under a rock.  😉





I’m slowly making my way through more Hugo nominations.  The nominations for best novelette are:

  • “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
  • “Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  • “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
  • “In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
  • “Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

Today I’ll  talk about The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Dutch friends! Please help me with the correct pronunciation of his last name!) and Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente.

boy who cast no shadow

The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Look is an especially odd child. He has no shadow. It’s not just that a shadow doesn’t form behind or under him, there isn’t one under his nose, or his chin, it’s that no darkness forms around him, as if the sun refuses to acknowledge his existence. He doesn’t have a reflection either, and can’t be filmed or photographed. The original invisible boy. Unless of course, you’re in the same room as him, and then there’s just a lonely child, seen by everyone but himself.

Look is the only weird kid at school until Splinter shows up and gives the bullies a new target. Splinter can’t help being the perfect fragile target for their verbal and physical abuse; he’s a boy made of glass, a child who reflects everything except himself.

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow me on Twitter!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,617 other subscribers
Follow the Little Red Reviewer on



FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.