Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
I've always been impressed with PS Publishing's choice of personalities when it comes to the introduction of their books. In the case of Val/Orson, it's Catherynne M. Valente, who is a classicist, and that in itself should inform you about the particular route this story takes. Val/Orson is very mythic in language and Marly Youmans sells us this fantasy early on. In many ways, this is a coming-of-age story of sorts, with a traditional beginning and end. Where Youmans innovates is everything else, from the characters to the setting. There's always a dichotomy present in each scene, whether it's the clash of nature vs the urban, the protagonist vs his sibling, father vs mother, etc. It's this rich writing that rewards readers and make this a sophisticated read, going beyond what might be expected of a speculative fiction text.
As far as technical skill is concerned, Youmans is to be lauded as Val/Orson is more complex than most novels in the supermarket reading rack. Every single character, every single event, has a purpose and each is part of this diverse web where each element ricochets off each other. Stylistically, Youmans also sustains her tone and has this traditional fantasy atmosphere going for it. While I praise the author for all these accomplishments, Val/Orson isn't really my type of book and this is a personal preference. At this point in time, I'm looking for a more upbeat pace and there were honestly times where I was confused. Was I reading one character's story or several? These are, however, traits that other readers will enjoy and I'm sure when I get the chance to re-read this book, Val/Orson will have a more positive effect on me.
Val/Orson is ambitious and multifaceted, definitely a literary read that is both faithful to the form and groundbreaking. It takes a highly attuned palate to detect the intricacies but keen readers will be rewarded with such a discourse.