Review: Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente


Publication: August 20th 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
Pages:  429 pages
Source: Bookmobile
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Adult, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Mystery, Speculative Fiction
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤⛤

Radiance, I love you right in the face!

I went through many different emotions when while reading this book. It started with interest, confusion, frustration, excitement, awe, and then getting unexpectedly hit with THE FEELS!

When I finished Radiance, I couldn’t help thinking about how long this must have taken Valente to write. Not only is it a fairly large book, it’s also written in a variety of styles from editorials, letters, diary entry’s, film scripts, noir, gothic, surreal, and a whole slew more I’m sure I’m forgetting. But then I found out it only takes Valente 30 days to write a novel, even a radiant one like this, and I got jealous, but she’s an amazing author so it only makes sense that a brilliant person could write such a brilliant story.

Even after finishing Radiance, it’s hard to accurately describe what the story is about. In it’s simplest form, it is about a young director, Severin Unck, who is the daughter of a famous Gothic director who grows up to become a director of documentaries, exploring different colonized planets in the solar system and bringing back the footage to the Moon (this world’s Hollywood) for the worlds to see. But on her last filmmaking journey with her crew, to the city of Adonis, Venus to try and find out how this town disappeared, Severin also vanishes and is presumed dead. Much of the novel gives us insight into Severin’s past through scripts of her father’s footage of her growing up, to scripts of Severin’s own documentaries about herself, to interviews from her lover Erasmo, but also deals with what happened to Severin after and how the people in her life try to cope with it.

The novel tells this story in a variety of ways. As well as the way’s mentioned above, there are also articles from a tabloid journalist detailing the question of Severin’s mother’s identity, there are diary entries from Mary Pellam, an actress and one of Severin’s stepmother’s, their is an interview with Erasmo and Cythera, a security officer trying to piece together what happened to Severin in Adonis, and there are the conversations and scripts by Percival Unck, Severin’s father, and his co-writer Vincenza as they try to figure out the best way to immortalize Severin in film.

I’ll admit, the novel was confusing at some points. But I find this common in sci=fi and steampunk, and with such a variety of ways to tell the story, how could it not be?  Once I got more into the novel and really kept at it, I started to understand the style and flow more and really began to enjoy it.

One of my favourite parts were the narrated parts of Percival and Vincenza’s scripts as they tried to figure out what type of movie to immortalize and remember Severin in. It started out as a noir, which was my favourite script because Valente got the tone down perfectly and I really hope she writes a noir novel one day just because she does it so well. The story then turns to a Gothic, which was my least favourite script (Anchises became such a wimp!), then a children’s fairy tale which was cute and fun, and then turns into a surreal story which was incredibly confusing, but I’m a sucker for surrealism so it was fine with me.

Valente has put so much significance into this story it’s almost impossible to figure out where to start. She uses names and figures from Greek and other world mythology as names of towns and cities on various planets of the solar system and they are all significant. I only caught a few of the name references, but should I re-read this in the future I hope I can find and learn more of the references.

Also, their are space whales, specifically called callowhales whose milk is harvested for people around  the solar system to drink so that they are able to travel through space. That’s really all I can say on the whales for now because they become important later on in the novel, and I still don’t fully understand their significance, but I want to, and the only way to do that is to re-read it.

Radiance is a book you practically have to re-read after the first time not only for the sheer enjoyment of enjoying such a beautiful story again, but so you can analyze it, see what you missed the first time around, and see which pieces of the puzzle you can find to understand it as a whole. In a way, I got some House of Leaves vibes just from the pure enjoyment of having to think about the story, of being forced to analyze, and I love it when a book makes me think.

As someone who studied Theatre and Film as a minor, I enjoyed Radiance for it’s overall Classic Hollywood vibe and references to cinema in it’s early stages, from Georges Méliès to Edison, and I really enjoyed how the Edison in this book was just as much of a jerk as the real Edison was (historical accuracy!).

Radiance is a (please forgive me) radiant book that longtime lover’s of sci-fi, but especially those with a love and understanding for film history, will indulge in. It’s a beautiful, heartwarming, heartbreaking, consuming novel that will stay with you.


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