Catherynne M. Valente – In the Cities of Coin and Spice

  Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Title: In the Cities of Coin and Spice
Series: The Orphan’s Tales

Published: October 2007
Publisher: Bantam Dell
Length:  516 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Why I picked it up: Fan of the author
Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy: IndieBound | Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

Taking a break of essay writing to jot down a few thoughts on this book…my writing skills suffer at this time of year (all my effort goes into the school essays :P) so bear with me! I just took a peak at my review of In the Night Garden, the volume of stories preceding in this one. I enjoyed that volume a little more than this one, so I’m interested in comparing what I thought about the two. (Read my review of the first volume here.) My explanation of the difference between 4.5 and 5 stars definitely applies here. My one ‘complaint’ is that I had more difficulty with this volume in keeping the stories straight – but who knows, that may be my own fault! I feel as though the connections between the stories were far more subtle. I didn’t recognize any overarching connector, such as Eyvind in the first volume, though I know there was one the story’s conclusion. I recognized bits and pieces, from tales within this volume (there were a few references to the girl with pearls falling out of her mouth) and tales within the other volume (such as the Selkie reference), but I couldn’t recall how the stories connected. Because of this, I did tire a little of the format and I found the ending a little frustrating. I didn’t have an ‘Aha!’ moment where I realized how all the stories connected. At the end of the book I still wasn’t sure how everything clicked together, even though I recognized all the characters and sort of understood what they were explaining. But even without this great realization, I still thought the ending was sweet and just right 🙂

Now, tossing aside those minor complaints! Even though I wasn’t sure what was going on sometimes, I still found the stories lovely to read(pg 385). Once again, I was immediately enthralled. I read every word carefully and though I felt no need to rush through the book, I didn’t want to stop reading. I find the book like a warm blanket, I love to just snuggle into the layers of the story. Again, the prose is rich rich rich, like chocolate melting in your mouth (one can’t help but want to create metaphors after reading Valente! Even if they are  pitiful metaphors, especially by comparison :P).

I did jot down a handful of sentences that really struck me. So much of Valente’s prose stands out on its own, but these pieces really made me pause and think (usually ‘That’s so beautifully sad!’ That’s the kind of thing that catches my eye, haha). Here they are!

In the city of Lament, there was a moth with gray wings like blown ash, and he drank the tears from the eye of a sleeping ptarmigan. The tears were rosy and thin, like a girl’s perfume. [pg. 224 – this is an entire page about moths drinking tears. It is lovely.]

 …and their hearts toll like bells when a wish not in their books is uttered. [pg. 272]

…the wings woven of horsehair and rose petals for the mask-maker’s son who wanted to see what Ajanabh looked like from above – these he would hdie form his father under the floor, hide them for so long they would turn to dust and brown petals beneath a green carpet. [pg. 390] 

Other passages of the story I particularly liked (staying general to avoid spoilers) are the story of the fish who thinks she turned into a dragon (I laughed out loud, the story is not what you expect in more ways than one!), Dinarazad’s development (I ‘awwwed’ at page 377), and the sirens’ realization.

I’m not really sure what to add. How is this volume different from the first? I think these stories were a little darker, a little more solemn, a little less magical. There’s nothing wrong with that – I just prefer the type of stories in the first volume. It’s probably a good thing this volume wasn’t a duplicate of the first! That would have been very tiring, indeed.