"Palimpsest" explores the bizarre eponymous city, which seems to be Valente's answer to China Miéville's New Crobuzon. The story is absorbing from the opening paragraph, when four newcomers to the city meet at a fortune-teller's shop:
Four strangers sit in the red chairs, strip off their socks, plunge their feet into the ink-baths, and hold hands under an amphibian stare. This is the first act of anyone entering Palimpsest: Orlande will take your coats, sit you down, and make you family. She will fold you four together like quartos. She will draw you each a card -- look, for you it is the Broken Ship reversed, which signifies perversion, a long journey without enlightenment, gout -- and tie your hands together with red yarn. Wherever you go in Palimpsest, you are bound to these strangers who happened onto Orlande's salon just when you did, and you will go nowhere, eat no capon or dormouse, drink no oversweet port that they do not also taste, and they will visit no whore that you do not also feel beneath you, and until that ink washes from your feet -- which, given that Orlande is a creature of the marsh and no stranger to mud, will be some time -- you cannot breathe but that they breathe also.As this excerpt suggests, Valente writes remarkably rich, lush prose. (The same is no doubt true of her poetry, which I have not read.) Usually I avoid authors with such an ornate style, because I find it annoying if not done just right. Thankfully, Catherynne Valente does it just right. She immerses you in her story without letting it become oppressive. Her two-volume fantasy The Orphan's Tales was a World Fantasy Award nominee and won the Tiptree Award and Mythopoiec Award, and there is every indication Valente is just getting started.
"Palimpsest" gives us a preview of Valente's forthcoming novel of the same title, scheduled for release in February 2009. I can't wait.