Monday, May 18, 2009

Book/Magazine Review: Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Giving credit where it's due, Catherynne M. Valente's writing is anything but conventional. In the case of Palimpsest, it's a far cry from her The Orphan Tales series, but that doesn't make it any less interesting. Initially, the book feels like a mosaic novel with its ensemble cast and time-shifting sequences but eventually, perceptive readers will grasp the author's logic and structure. At the forefront of the narrative is the city known as Palimpsest, a combination of grotesqueness and beauty as well as sensuality.

Valente's strength is her mastery of language as well as her unique style. When it comes to eloquence and description of sex, the author gives erotica writers a run for their money and in fact, one of the novel's early hooks is how the first few chapters end in a climax. There's also a precision and carefulness when it comes to Valente's writing. The chapters are short but poignant, each scene contributing an integral plot element and ending at a pivotal moment which compels you to continue. And as far as technique goes, in addition to the conventional point of view, Valente includes a travelogue in certain chapters, a welcome exposition that has flavor and wouldn't work in a different book--or a less-talented author.

Another commendable aspect to Valente's writing are her characters. The author introduces a diverse group of people, each one having their own virtues but for the most part are haunted by their inner demons. Their journey isn't straightforward but Valente ensnares the reader's attention, and includes twists and turns which makes the narrative anything but predictable. Also to be praised is how the book doesn't neatly fit into generic boxes. There's definitely an erotic and romance element to the book but Valente goes beyond their usual tropes. In a certain way, this is also urban fantasy, but not in the vein of Laurell K. Hamilton or Jim Butcher. There's also a secondary world aspect to it but the real world is equally important to the cosmology.

Fast paced, titillating, and original, Palimpsest is a welcome treat to readers who are looking for something that defies convention.

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