|The Habitation of the Blessed - a review
||[Nov. 12th, 2010|08:55 am]
The Habitation of the Blessed by our own Catherynne Valente Once again, Cat's lyrical prose and masterful comprehension of world mythologies come together to create a book so achingly beautiful that I didn't want to reach the end.I just finished |
The fable of Prester John really was the first fake viral meme to infect the world. But unlike today's "Good Times Virus" warnings, Prester John's tale arrived in the form of a letter to the ruler of Constantinople in the 12th Century. No one has ever determined who wrote the letter, in which "John" boasted that he was both a priest and a king in a world inhabited by gryphons, unicorns, dragons and other fabulous creatures.
No one knew who he was, but everyone believed the letter. Expeditions set out in search of this mythical kingdom, and the letter influenced political policy for about 500 years.
In real life, eventually enough of the world was explored for the letter's veracity to come into doubt and its influence to fade away. In Cat's novel, though, all of it is true. Beautifully, delightfully true.
The Habitation of the Blessed is the first volume in a trinity of books called A Dirge for Prester John, and as such it is the origin story and the reader's introduction to the world. The tale is told from three points of view, each from a different time in the history of this magical kingdom: John's, his wife's, and Imthital's who is the nursemaid to the royal children. The voices and viewpoints of the three tales are distinct and well-defined, drawing out the charactbuter of the teller as much as conveying the events of the plot.
This is, by necessity, a story that draws from Biblical sources as well: Prester John is, after all, a priest. Here again, Cat's thorough grounding in all mythologies supplies resonance as she deftly turns the familiar on its head and blends it with the fantastic. The end result is far from conventional.
I anxiously await the next book in the series.