The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One by Catherynne M. Valente, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One
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The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One

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by Catherynne M. Valente
     
 

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This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a

Overview

This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?

Brother Hiob of Luzerne, on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the eighteenth century, discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books instead of fruit. These strange books chronicle the history of the kingdom of Prester John, and Hiob becomes obsessed with the tales they tell. The Habitation of the Blessed recounts the fragmented narratives found within these living volumes, revealing the life of a priest named John, and his rise to power in this country of impossible richness. John’s tale weaves together with the confessions of his wife Hagia, a blemmye — a headless creature who carried her face on her chest — as well as the tender, jeweled nursery stories of Imtithal, nanny to the royal family.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
In 1699, Brother Hiob of Luzern travels to the East as a missionary and comes upon proof of the existence of the legendary holy man Prester John and his fabled kingdom. From a tree that produces books rather than fruit, Hiob harvests three volumes, one penned by John himself. As Hiob uncovers more details of the holy man's life, he learns disturbing truths about both Prester John and himself. The award-winning author of Palimpset and "The Orphan's Tales" series begins a new series depicting the extraordinary lives of two men, separated by centuries but united by their ability to experience the wonder of the world. VERDICT Valente's latest novel contains the richness and inscrutability of fable and allegory, infusing her storytelling with a lyrical intensity reminiscent of the literature of India and the Middle East. For select audiences.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781597801997
Publisher:
Night Shade Books
Publication date:
11/23/2010
Series:
Dirge for Prester John Series, #1
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
444,513
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Catherynne M. Valente began September’s adventures in installments on the Web; the project won legions of fans and also the CultureGeek Best Web Fiction of the Decade award. She lives with her husband on an island off the coast of Maine. She has written many novels for adults, but this is her children’s book debut.

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The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 219 reviews.
Songwind More than 1 year ago
The Habitation of the Blessed is a complex work full of rich language and many themes. The book consists of four interwoven storylines. In one, a Byzantine monk confesses his "sins" of thought and deed during the transcribing of the other three. The three books he plucks from a miraculous tree are an autobiography of Prester John, another of his wife, and a collection of stories told to the children of an ancient queen of Prester John's country. It's difficult to decide what to mention without ruining surprises for other readers. The three storylines from the tree intertwine considerably. Some of the same events are witnessed by the authors, and the storybook contains tales that forewarn us what the subjects of the other two tomes have coming to them. The book is full of the poetic language and keen observation I expect from Ms. Valente's work. In HotB, she has not yet found that balance between beauty and accessibility that she struck so well in Deathless, but the text isn't truly difficult, either. Students of classical or Medieval history will recognize themes, myths, legends and fantastic creatures. The historical (and legendary) structure around the Letter of Prester John makes an excellent framework from which to hang this novel's themes.
PhoenixFalls More than 1 year ago
I do not know where to start in talking about this book. I suppose I should start with the fact that I choked up in every single on of Hagia's sections, and half of Imtithal's. This is partly because I am a sap, but mostly because this book (and this trilogy, given the foreshadowing) is about a fall from paradise, about the elves going off to the Grey Havens, about the horrible inevitableness of the change you don't see coming. And that atmosphere hangs over every passage of those two narratives, infusing them with an exquisite sense of loss. Three narratives, actually, because Hiob's framing narrative is also imbued with that grief, though at a remove. There are four narratives, by the way -- the three previously mentioned and that of John the Priest. That complexity of structure is typical of Valente's novels (at least the four I have now read); she weaves together disparate narratives better than any author I have ever read, ignoring linearity in favor of thematic resonance. So Hiob says "I have boys to scribed for me now -- for I have often and in secret thought that it is boys' work, to copy and not to compose, to parrot, and not to proclaim" and four pages later Hagia writes "I have been all my life a scribe. . . But in the end. . . I attempt, with clumsy but earnest need, to compose and not to copy. . ." Characters echo one anothers' thoughts without knowing, and their actions are mirrored or reversed to throw light on the sorts of people they are. This is the sort of book that rewards careful reading, and punishes any lack of attention or attempt to skim. John's narrative, at first, does not seem to fit with the other three. It is the most chronological, mostly confining itself to whatever events it is relating rather than musing on what came later (though John does do a little of this sort of foreshadowing); it is also the most surreal, and the first section when he is adrift on the sea of sand is downright hard to figure out, because we don't yet have enough knowledge of the world to know what is real and what is metaphor. But that discordant note is a very carefully measured choice on Valente's part. John is the catalyst, the thing that, when added to Hagia's delicately balanced world, changes the world rather than being changed itself. That's why when he finally is mirrored it's by Thomas, another Christian who stumbled into paradise, with vastly different results. And Hagia is. . . absolutely the most perfect challenge her world casts against John. The book is incredibly sensual -- far more sensual than Palimpsest, which was all about sex. Each of the men of the Church is confronted with the world of the body he thought he left behind: Thomas by Imtithal's physical affection; Hiob by the fragrant, liquid rot that worked against him in his task of copying; and John by Hagia, with her eyes where her nipples should be, at the tips of abundant breasts, and totally comfortable in that body. The tension in the book comes from those challenges, even though we already know who ends up the victor. To bring a long rambling squee to the point, every moment of this novel is perfectly constructed, every choice deliberately calculated to further the story being told. Because of this (not despite it) it is deeply moving. The best thing I read last year was Valente's two-volume The Orphan's Tales; so far this year, it is definitely The Habitation of the Blessed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've heard Cat Valente read the beginning of this and it's a mesmerizing tale that is a stunning literary work, but also has lovely small, personal bits in it. I particularly liked the kids at the beginning. Totally worth discovering - I learnt so much without every feeling like I was being taught!
CourtCat More than 1 year ago
Honestly, I'm not as eloquent as the other reviewers down there, but I already own a hard copy of this book and picked it up for my Nook anyway. Read it and enjoy it, or don't. But at least give it a try.
hallieb More than 1 year ago
Habitation of the Blessed is a wonderful book. The writing makes you want to savor every word. Catherynne Valente just keeps getting better and better.
preraph More than 1 year ago
I haven't read The Habitation of the Blessed yet, but I'm grateful that it's FREE. Valente's writing is so lyrical and beautiful and I enjoyed her books Deathless and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. I am disappointed in the comments here (shouldn't call them reviews as many of you are not actually REVIEWING anything, just complaining about B&N). If you have a problem with the Free Fridays program, surely this is not the place to air your grievances. If you took the time, I'm sure you could find the appropriate space on B&N to share your eloquent comments about their FREE books offered in their generous program. I can't believe the ungratefulness of whining about receiving an author's work FOR FREE. It's impossible to choose a book that everyone likes week after week and I'm glad to see that B&N makes an effort to offer variety and expose us to different works and genres.
flyfishnlady More than 1 year ago
This book was a "Free Friday" pick for me sometime ago. After reading several of the reviews, good and bad, I finally decided to give it a try. I am about halfway through now but that is only because I am savoring it! Although I am quite sure I will read this delightful tale again, there is nothing like the "first" read. Ms. Valente style of writing is truly unique and I am convinced her imagination has no bounds. This book will not be for everyone, you will either absolutely love it or never bother to finish it. But I do urge you to at least give it a taste... As for myself I have already added several of her other books to my nook wish list!
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Whoever wrote this needs to learn how to write a story. I had no idea What was going on in any given moment. Who are all these creatures and people? I have no idea. Whats the story with the book tree. I kept rereading paragraphs thinking I had missed some explanation from the author....but no. The author writes as if we all know what he is talking about...and we don't. Don't believe me? Read the rest of the reviews below. They say much the same thing as I am saying. It's like the mumblings of a schizophrenic. Hopefully he reads these review and learns something from them. This could have been a decent book if the author had a point. Wish i could e-return this for e-store credit.
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PenelopeSue More than 1 year ago
not sure what to think
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It never did. This book is all prologue, you keep expecting the interesting stuff to start, because the buildup is so good, but it just keeps on in a dreamy fashion, drifting aimlessly. I gave up reading it.
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