Turning traditional fairy tales inside out, Tiptree Award—winner Valente lets witches, demons and beasts tell their own stories of seeking—and not always finding—happily ever after.
The tone of In the Cities of Coins and Spice is much darker than the first Orphan’s Tales book, In the Night Garden. Was that intentional?
Yes. To some extent I knew that I wanted to have the first half of the second book be something really hard and dark and serious, so that when all the fire and the light of the second half comes, it’s a kind of catharsis. I also got better at writing the Orphan’s Tales. I had a much stronger idea of how to go about writing this particular novel by the time I got to the second book.
Do you have concerns about being typecast, that people are going to expect you to write nesting stories forever?
Not nesting stories, but I’m a little concerned about being typecast with fairy tales. This is a very specific series, and I don’t intend to write another fairy tale novel for a while, if I ever do again.
Are you going to continue to write about monsters?
Oh, absolutely. I’m interested in outcasts, in liminal figures, in deformities, so I’m always going to write about monsters and monstrosity. When I look at the corpus of fairy tales from different cultures, there’s always a monster in every story, whether it’s a horrific dragon or a very broken person or a witch. Existing within the culture that fairy tales require, which is that traditional patriarchal kind of world that we view in traditional fantasy, you’d have to be conscious of your own monstrosity. While nobody considers themselves to be beyond redemption, everyone who exists on the margins is aware of their own marginality. I think that that’s true in the real world and true in fairy tales. And I always want to talk in the monster’s voice. I don’t really have all that much interest in the princess in the tower unless she turns out to be a monster, too. I wanted my monsters to be aware, instead of just sort of dumbly roaring and lurching toward the hero. When you look at a traditional fairy tale structure, the one who seems not self-aware is the prince, the prince without even his own name, who just mutely follows the commands of a father or the idea of being a prince. That’s not being self-aware. But if you eat enough maidens, you start thinking about it: who am I? why am I here? why do I eat maidens?