Catherynne M. Valente
Bantam, Feb 24 2009, $14.00
Somewhere out there beyond the realm of the living or for that matter the dead is Palimpsest, a place you just don’t simply get to. First you must believe it exists; then you hope for a miracle, though some might insist a curse, must occur. You still might not get there as there are many strange places out there beyond life and death. To find this city beyond all, following a major loss usually of a loved one and during the deepest of natural sleep after sex like none before or any afterward, will appear a tattooed map on the skin that seems to have come from no known source.
Four strangers wake up to the map and a binding need to find each other as they begin their quest: In Tokyo is Amaya Sei: in California is November; in New York is Oleg; and in his books is Ludovico. They are heading to the ghost train that will take them to Palimpsest and a realm filled with wonder, awe and perhaps what each seeks: someone to fill the loss in their respective souls.
This is an intriguing Twilight Zone like quest fantasy, but the quest is not some prophecy artifact to save a world from evil; instead it is an individual search to find what death recently took away and left behind in its wake loneliness and sorrow warped in grief. The quartet seems genuine even when they confront creatures that logically could not exist. The support cast before the journey, during the travel, and in the city also comes across real enough to make the heroes seem more complete. Though as always is the case with a Catherynne M. Valente tale (see IN THE CITIES OF COIN AND SPICE and IN THE NIGHT GARDEN) this parable of seeking to belong to someone is complex, and convoluted making for a difficult but ultimately poignant read.