Best of November 2010 in SFF: Catherynne M. Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed

Link: Best of November 2010 in SFF: Catherynne M. Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed

Narrated by Ralph Lister for Brilliance Audio, Valente begins the series A Dirge for Prester John with The Habitation of the Blessed, my pick for the best of November 2010 in new science fiction and fantasy releases at John is a legendary church figure whose letters to Constantinople told of a rich, magical land of which he had become king. Here, Lister brings the three principle storylines to vibrant life as they weave in and around each other. This is not an easy book or audiobook: new words are thrown at you without much reference or warning; fantastical creatures enough to fill a taxonomy are introduced and paraded around a time and land that just doesn’t make sense. But why should it? After all, it is anti-Aristotelian. If you plant a book, a book tree will grow.

Publisher’s summary:

This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, 12th-century document that captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?

Brother Hiob of Luzerne, on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the 18th century, discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books instead of fruit. These strange books chronicle the history of the kingdom of Prester John, and Hiob becomes obsessed with the tales they tell. The Habitation of the Blessed recounts the fragmented narratives found within these living volumes, revealing the life of a priest named John, and his rise to power in this country of impossible richness. John’s tale weaves together with the confessions of his wife Hagia, a blemmye — a headless creature who carried her face on her chest — as well as the tender, jeweled nursery stories of Imtithal, nanny to the royal family.


  • Anthology: METAtropolis: Cascadia continues the shared world anthology series started with 2009’s METAtropolis which, like this volume, is an Audible original novella/novelette anthology set in a future post-peak-oil world of constrained resources and collapsed economies; and much like the first album there’s an all-star cast of narrators, in this case all coming from Star Trek: The Next Generation



Note: this post is back-dated from June 23, 2011, for sort order purposes.

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