Book as arabesque.
Short story leads to short story, each providing background and impetus for the next, characters answering questions to what led them to that intersection. It’s a beautiful technique that comes back around to many of the original story characters.
The trouble for me is that the short story makes it easy to put down and go do something else, as it’s often a natural break in the plot and action, so it took me far too long to finish. More clues or story in the background setting of the young wild girl in the king’s garden could have helped give context to why she is there and keep me motivated; perhaps the second book will bring the story telling back around to the “real” narrative of the young girl and the prince.
I find the language and ideas poetic and beautiful. Some might find the prose “purplish” but I would say that fans of de Lint and Beagle will love it. Valente deserves the James Tiptree Jr. award with such interesting female characters and her ability to turn conventions sideways. The story of the princess in the tower became particularly fascinating. It’s a very full, imaginative book that usually does not go too far into moralizing; characters are created uniquely and quickly in the short stories, and subsequent ones even bring insight into villains and evil kings and sorceresses.