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The Folded World is the second novel of the Dirge for Prester John, a mosaic series which started with The Habitation of the Blessed.  Valente's work in the Dirge... is informed by her degree in Classics; however, The Folded World also looks beyond this - as well as Prester John and Alaric of Rouen (the latter of whom has replaced Hiob as our intersectional scribe of the Confessions), John of Mandeville makes an appearance as an author of a quarter of our mosaic.  Valente's passion for expanding the world comes through in each section, with powerful characters and wonderful events brought together incredibly.

Those characters are often the same as those we saw in The Habitation... - there is, perhaps, little new to add to our discussions of Hagia and Prester John and their retinue.  However, what we do see is a change in Prester John - his unbending, begun in The Habitation..., continues in The Folded World, as he becomes more and more a part of Pentexore, and less and less a part of the historical world; questioning his faith, his world, and his role, he becomes more and more a Pentexorian, especially at the tragic end of the novel, as his own Nestorian order turns on him as a demon and leader of demons.  There are, however, a number of new characters in our cast; perhaps more prominent is John of Mandeville, a historical pseudo-character (or perhaps pseudo-historical character).  As the author of one of the three books being copied to form the novel, he comes across as a charming, lovable liar at the start, a teller of tall tales and inventor of truths and falsehoods; a slippery, silver-tongued rogue.  However, as his story continues, we cut through to the damaged character of John himself: a man who has lost himself in falsehood and lies, a man for whom the real and the false are at times virtually indistinguishable, and who knows himself a fool, not a hero, and a tragic fool at that.  Sefalet and Vyala are also new, and linked - their narrative is told by Vyala, but is as much about Sefalet as Vyala, whose character comes out only minimally as any more than a wise lioness with all the character traits this implies.  Sefalet, however, is a dark figure, divided against herself; her hands each have an eye and a mouth, missing from her featureless face, and whilst her right hand acts like a child, her left takes the left-hand path - entropy, darkness, and breaking taboo, outside her control.  Sefalet is a dark and terrifying character who, in her brokenness, elicits sympathy and horror at once, both in characters and the reader, because she is so pained.  The final major new character is Alaric; new in the sense of his rise to prominence, begun in the close of Habitation... but brought to fruition across the course of The Folded World.  Here, it is his Confessions that link the pieces, and his own temptation that must be resisted; he is a very different character than Hiob, much less passionate about the books and learning, much more passionate about Hiob himself and his legacy, and an outsider; a man of faith but whose faith seems, perhaps, weak and damaged.

If it sounds like The Folded World is about a cast, and story, more dark and damaged than Habitation of the Blessed, I don't think that could be denied; it is about the world where death is, and about that death.  This is perhaps no more clear than in the two different, but complementary, renderings of the Calypso story so familiar to classicists from the Odyssey; both tell of Odysseus' choice, and both understand it similarly, but at the same time, judge him in a very different way (p86-7; p202-3).  That idea of the different narratives of the same event is central to the plot of The Folded World; we have three (four, if the Confessions are included) narratives about the same time-period, with different foci and different events, but each leading inexorably to the same conclusion; and Valente commits so powerfully and effectively to that conclusion, makes it so real and world-destroying, but at the same time world-creating and affirming, that it overwhelms the reader, and the narrative, whilst coming to a halt, begs the question, that inevitable question in fiction:

What happens next?

Sadly, we'll have to wait until 2013 to find out, but The Folded World certainly makes me want to read on, as this story about stories - which is as much a theme in The Dirge for Prester John as anything else - and about how those stories we tell ourselves define who we are (see the two different renderings of Calypso, for instance) is so well-told, so beautiful, and so lyrical. Once again, I would heartily recommend The Dirge for Prester John - though better to start with The Habitation of the Blessed, The Folded World continues the series in the same excellent vein.

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(Anonymous)
Nov. 25th, 2011 07:03 am (UTC)
materials
hi to all libris-leonis.livejournal.comers this is my first post and thought i would say a big hello to yous -
speak soon
garry m
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