The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Vol. 1

Catherynne M. Valente, Author
Catherynne M. Valente, Night Shade (, $14.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-59780-199-7
Reviewed on: 10/25/2010
Release date: 10/01/2010
In 1165, a letter ostensibly written by the distant Christian king Prester John describing a kingdom of wonders rocked medieval Europe. In this enchanting retelling of the legend, the first volume in a projected trilogy, Hugo nominee Valente (Palimpsest) imagines what might have been discovered by Rome's ambassadors if the letter had not been a hoax. Nothing is quite as fabulous as the pious priests had hoped. Prester John and St. Thomas the Twin married nonhuman women; the Fountain of Youth does not sparkle, but instead "oozes thick and oily, globbed with algae and the eggs of improbable mayflies." Three very different personalities narrate: the brooding Prester John himself; his carefree and openhearted wife, the blemmye Hagia; and maternal Imtithal of the elephant-eared panotii. Filled with lyrical prose and fabled creatures, this languorous fairy tale is as captivating as Prester John's original letter. (Dec.)
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