Continuation of Valente’s extraordinary fantasy story cycle begun with In The Night Garden (2006).
In the garden of a sultan’s palace lives an exile, an unnamed girl whose eyelids are intricately tattooed, each point a story in an elaborate cycle. Her audience is an unnamed boy who someday will be sultan. As the boy’s sister, Dinarzad, prepares to wed, the exile begins with the story of Seven, the seventh son of a seventh son. Staked out on a hillside on his seventh birthday, Seven wakens in a pit filled with children, some alive, others dead, in a city built of garbage and whose non-human inhabitants, the Pra-Ita, seem like ghosts. (They are, but that’s another series of stories.) The foreman, Vhummim, leads the living children underground to toil at a vast machine, the Mint, which converts the dead children’s bones into coin. Seven befriends Oubliette, part girl, part cow, part tree, who has her own story to tell. After many years they concoct an escape plan. Seven places his arm under the machine’s stamp to wrench it off and to process the severed arm into 12 coins; they buy their freedom with six. After many adventures together, they become separated. To save Oubliette, Seven must pay the skeletal boatman, Idyll, his last coin to ferry him across a gray lake where on the far shore he hopes to find his love. In such a manner, each story leads to another, eventually to circle back to the beginning when we finally learn the narrator’s name and how she came to be tattooed with stories and abandoned in the palace garden.
Demanding, certainly, but no summary can do justice to the bedazzling intricacies on bountiful display here.