- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Night Shade Books (1 Nov. 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1597802034
- ISBN-13: 978-1597802031
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.9 x 21 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,497,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Folded World (Dirge for Prester John) Paperback – 1 Nov 2011
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Much has been said before about Cat's lyrical prose and her ability to turn a phrase. She is certainly at the top of the heap in that regard, but she never does so at the expense of telling a solid story. Cat moves words across a page like an expert flyfisher casts a line. A novice flyfisher might be able to make the line loop and dance in the air (pretty!), but without the focus and power that comes with practice, the loops tangle before they ever touch the water (useless!). An expert flyfisher, however, understands how to make the line's dance propel the line forward to its target - the result is both gorgeous and powerful. Cat's prose has muscle and it pushes the story forward - there is not a wasted or extraneous word to be found, and the words that are there are beautiful.
Read and enjoy. She will make your heart ache and leap and dance, and you should let her - she knows what she's doing. She won't let you down.
Once again, we are transported to Pentexore. The Folded World is every bit as lyrical and beautifully-written, with all the symbolism and figurative language we saw in Habitation. However, much less background information about the world of Pentexore was required in this book for several reasons. First, we've already been here, through Hiob's transcriptions from Habitation. Second, there are fewer new arrivals to Pentexore these days, so we don't learn as much about it through human eyes as we did in the previous volume. I actually really liked the device of "foreigners" learning about Pentexore in Habitation; it was a convenient way to introduce the world through the eyes of people who had never seen it before. Now, the world is known, and we have a handle on its idiosyncrasies, so we can dive right into the story.
This is a good thing. One of the few problems I had with Habitation is that nothing much happened, that I could summarize the plot in a paragraph or two. Not so, here. The Folded World had a lot more action, and even though it was more complex, the various threads were woven together well and the ending was not at all what I expected after my reading of Habitation. I do like it a lot when novels are unpredictable (as long as the endings are logical conclusions to the action), and Valente surprised me here.
Each of the books Alaric chooses has a different narrator. Hagia the blemmye is again a narrator, although she is being told what to write by John's half-crane daughter Anglitora and Anglitora's words (in italics) are incorporated throughout Hagia's sections. Hagia (and Anglitora, John, and a few others from Habitation) are on a journey. John has looked into an enchanted mirror and seen Constantinople and Jerusalem burning, and feels compelled to go to the aid of his people. There is a lottery (which may or may not be fair) and some Pentexorans are chosen to accompany John and others are left behind. The prospect of war is exciting to the inhabitants of Pentexore, because it's been so long since they've had a real war that they've forgotten that it means people actually die. So they build ships and pack up barrels of dirt from Pentexore so that they can plant weapons and be able to grow new ones (if you haven't read Habitation, anything that gets planted underground in Pentexore can be plucked from a tree that grows in the spot where the item was buried).
The party makes it to what would be modern-day Iraq (outside Mosul) and find that there is a boundary that they cannot cross. They come upon a Muslim man (we'll call him Yusuf, as his full name is much more complicated but also difficult to remember) and also a monastery. I won't say much more about the plot except that there is quite a contrast in reception the Pentexorans receive from the monks versus Yusuf's reaction to these new (and strange) arrivals.
One thing that I love is that Valente never forgets the natures of the characters she's writing about. A man tries to attack Hagia but doesn't know how to go about it because she can't be strangled and has no throat to slit. Men treat Anglitora as if she is lame (she has one wing and one arm) but her wing is actually quite powerful. Little details like this really add to the atmosphere.
But that's only one account. We have two others. One is written by Vyala, a lion. She is given the care of Sefalet, Hagia's and John's daughter. Sefalet has a head with no features. Her eyes are in her hands; she also has a mouth in each hand. Her right-hand mouth is normal, lovable, etc. Her left-hand math speaks prophecies of doom and unnerves her parents, sometimes making Hagia not even want to spend time around her own daughter. In John's absence, his friends are charged with building a great cathedral, and Vyala and Sefalet hang around the building site. Some sections are told by Sefalet, and these are a little obnoxious because they're told in two columns, one from the right-hand mouth and one from the left-hand mouth. But this only occupies 3 or 4 pages in the whole book, really, and if you skip it, you aren't missing a lot. I would say Vyala's sections have the least amount of action, although there are a few details that probably set up what's going to happen in a later volume.
The final account is from another man named John who seems to be a compulsive liar. The epitome of the unreliable narrator. Etc. He's also made it to Pentexore, after traveling much of the known world (or so he says -- it's difficult to tell because he lies so much, we don't know whether to believe a word he says). Only, he's made it to the "other" Pentexore. Some centuries before, Pentexore was split by a wall to prevent evil and destructive forces from crossing over to the side with the fountain of youth, etc. This concept was not developed much in the previous volume. This second John ends up on the other side of the wall and is kept a virtual prisoner by some six-armed people called hexakyk.
Characterization is better in this volume than the previous. Hagia remains fully-realized and some new dimensions are added, especially with respect to Sefalet and Anglitora, John and Yusuf. John starts to see his own conflicting nature -- he has adopted Pentexore as his home, he has become its king, but he's still a faithful Christian and loyal to the city of his birth (Constantinople). The second John is complex as well, I think, although he could be lying to make his story more compelling. We feel pity for Sefalet. Etc. I think Valente gets the balance right between plot and developing POV characters in The Folded World.
Definitely don't read this without reading The Habitation of the Blessed First, or you'll be hopelessly lost. But once you've read that one (and it's short, as is this volume), check out The Folded World.
Put together in a similar style as Habitation of the Blessed (and you really must read these novels in order), we learn the stories in each of the three books as Alaric is copying them, but unlike Alaric, we are free to be seduced by them. The three narratives twist and tumble around one another, leaving hints here and there of things that happened, or perhaps things that are to come. Valente's prose is as always, so beautiful you want to cry, filled with metaphors that at first blush seem like they shouldn't work, but with laughter on the lips you find they work perfectly. I need to open the monster Thesaurus I just bought, so I can find the word that means "more incredible that I could have ever thought possible", and use it to describe The Folded World. I wanted to read this entire book out loud, just to see if the words sounded as beautiful as they looked (for the record, even though I only read portions out loud, they did).
The Book of the Ruby is written by Prester John's wife Hagia, and tells of John's crane-warrior daughter Anglitora. How Aglitora came to John's court bearing a helmet and a letter inviting John back to Christendom, his army of creatures is needed to win Jerusalem. In a land where to live is to be immortal and to die is to grow again in the fertile soil, no one remembers what war really means. War is a game with biting and chasing, war is a novelty, and everyone wants to make John happy enough that he stops trying to convert everyone.
The Left Hand Eye and the Right Hand Mouth is written by Vyala the Lion. She is caretaker to Sefalet, the daughter of Prester John and Hagia. Poor Sefalet is truly of two minds about the world, and I get the impression her parents wish she had been born differently. When half the court goes off to war, Sefalet, Vyala and the rest of the court are sent to Babel to build a cathedral on the ruins of that tower. It would have helped if John had told them what a cathedral is supposed to look like. With the help of a genius architect, they begin to build. And then the stones start talking.
The Virtue of Things is in the Midst of Them is by John Mandeville, and it is all lies. Except the parts that aren't. Shipwrecked on the other side of the wall in Pentexore, John Mandeville finds himself the guests of Ymra and Ysra, who rule on that side of the diamond wall and can never escape. But John Mandeville knows the truth of it, that telling stories is dangerous work indeed, because the truth has teeth.
Prester John is hardly in this story at all, because this part of the story isn't about him at all. It's about his wife Hagia, his daughters Sefalet and Anglitora, the paradise that made him King because they thought it would make him happy, and about a man who told only lies, until he told only the truth. This is a story about Lions who gain one child to lose another, mothers who fear their children, the languages of Emeralds, what really happens when you hunt a unicorn, and going home. It is about how history is collected and told, the nature of God, the nature of love, and how the pain of failure and the pain of truth can be the same thing. Although this book is filled with much sadness, I was intensely happy while reading it. Wrapped up in two hundred and fifty one pages and over flowing with wonder and beauty and tragedy and utter perfection, The Folded World is a religious experience, albeit not "religious" in the way we've been taught to use the word.
Enjoyable on multiple levels, you can read The Folded World as a fairy tale of monstrous proportions starring a preacher who failed to convert a flock, or further as a war story that starts out noble and exciting and honorable until you get there and the blood starts flowing, or even deeper yet.
If you've never read a Catherynne Valente, do yourself a favor and start reading her. Start with The Habitation of the Blessed, or Deathless, or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, or The Orphans Tales. Valente writes like no one else, as if no one ever told her "You're doing it wrong. Books aren't supposed to be things that glow with light, they're not supposed to be stained glass windows into the soul, they're just supposed to be simple things full of paper and ink and words that make sentences, ", she writes like she's never been afraid of anything, like the possibilities of the world are truly infinite.