A lonely girl with a dark tattoo across her eyelids made up of words spelling out countless tales unfolds a fabulous, recursive Arabian Nights-style narrative of stories within stories in this first of a new fantasy series from Valente (The Grass-Cutting Sword). The fantastic tales involve creation myths, shape-changing creatures, true love sought and thwarted, theorems of princely behavior, patricide, sea monsters, kindness and cruelty. As a sainted priestess explains, stories "are like prayers. It does not matter when you begin, or when you end, only that you bend a knee and say the words," and this volume does not so much arrive at a conclusion but stops abruptly, leaving room for endless sequels. Each descriptive phrase and story blossoms into another, creating a lush, hallucinogenic effect.
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*Starred Review* The opening volume of the Orphan's Tales begins in a palace garden, where a girl has been abandoned because of the strange, ink-black stain around her eyes and over her eyelids. Because the sultan and his nobles wish to avoid the problem she presents, she is left to wander the gardens, alone until another child, a boy, comes and speaks to her. She reveals the secret of her ink-stained eyes, that they contain many tales. In return for the boy's company, she tells him stories, beginning with the tale of the prince Leander. Each succeeding story grows from the one before it, characters recounting tales they were told and even weaving them back together. There is an entire mythology in this book, in which the themes of familiar fairy tales are picked apart and rearranged into a new and wonderful whole. The narrative is a nested, many-faceted thing, ever circling back to the girl in the palace garden and the prince she is telling the tales to in a wonderful interpretation of what fairy tales ought to be. The illustrations, by Michael Kaluta, constitute an excellent supplement, reminiscent of illustrations of such fairy-tale books as Andrew Lang's, though Kaluta does no toning down for Victorian sensibilities. Regina Schroeder
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