In The Night Garden: The Magic of Storytelling
This book, the first in a two-volume series, is a wonder. Consisting of an interlocking series of stories within stories within stories, reading it is like very little I've ever read before. The closest thing to it would probably be The Arabian Nights, but even that falls short of this beautiful story of stories.
The frame story has a strange girl telling the tales written across her eyelids to a young boy prince. The book is divided into two main sections, "The Book of the Steppe" and "The Book of The Sea," and within each is many more stories, as characters tell others their histories, as well as important myths and folktales relevant to their situations.
This approach of having stories within stories within stories can be a little confusing, as there are sometimes as many as four or five layers of storytelling going on at any one point. However, once you get into it, the effect is rather amazing, as you're washed away on a tide of tales, encountering a world of fascinating characters, wondrous sights and events, and amazing plot twists. One thing I liked is a tendency of characters and events from one story to come up or appear in another, or for seemingly dropped and forgotten plot threads to be resolved several stories down the line. This can also be somewhat offputting or disorienting however, so if you prefer your stories straightforward or like to read your books in short increments (as I do) this can be a problem.
However, like I said, if you can get over the way the book is presented, what results is a magical story. Somehow Catherynne M. Valente, the author, is able to write in a style that is both poetic and magical and somehow grounded in reality. I like to say that I love books which insert the magical into the mundane or the mundane into the magical, but somehow this story is able to do both at once.
I also loved the multitudes of cultural influences that Valente is able to employ. Parts of this story have flavors of Middle Eastern, African, Northern European, Eastern European, Indian, and East Asian folklore, which both leads to a really cool story and makes the world the story takes place in seem all the more real. Valente is a great world builder, and the world she constructs is an endlessly fascinating one.
All in all, this book is simultaneously fascinating and fantastical, in every sense of those words. I loved it so much I look forward to its sequel, " In the Cities of Bone and Spice," with anticipation and hunger. If you can get used to the story structure of tales within tales, and love a good story or fifteen, this very well may be the book for you.