Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente


“How many beginnings can a story have, Daddy ? “


I don’t want to be a writer.

First of all, I am way to damn lazy to be one ; I know that I would not be able to work at home because I would probably spend all my time watching TV shows, reading and eating. However, the main reason I know that I have 95 % chances to never become a writer is this, I just don’t really like writing. I like reviewing books to discuss them but I don’t actually like the process of writing because, I know that it is never going to be good enough . When I write fiction, I feel clumsy and stupid and when I am not thinking « oh lord, you are terrible you should stop », I am thinking « I could be reading right now. » So yeah, my dream job would be reviewing books not writing them. Anyway, all this to say that reading Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance reminded why I am so insecure about my writing. I won’t speak for all of the books out there but a majority of them are well written, some are very well written but very few are as magnificently and wonderfully crafted as Radiance.

The plot is both easy and hard to describe. It is a story about love. The love of a father for his daughter, the love of old movies, of vintage science fiction, but mostly of Art.

“I entered life as monochromatic as a movie. “

Severin Unck, the daughter of one of the most famous director of the galaxy, Perceval Unck, disappeared during a travel to Venus, home to callowhales, giant creatures whose milk allows humans to live in different planets. She traveled there to film a documentary on a mysterious town that vanished in one night leaving behind a boy.

 “Her name is Severin Unck. She is ten years old. She is talking to her father, Percy.
She is dead. Almost certainly dead. Nearly conclusively dead. She is, at the very least, not answering her telephone. ”

This book is extremely smart and ambitious. It is told in a very interesting way : scripts, diaries entries, advertisement and interviews create a very intriguing mosaique. It is extremely weird at first because, it makes the understanding of what is actually happening pretty hard.

The only thing that kept my interest at first was Valente’s incredible prose. I have to admit that the prologue is one of the best piece of literature I have read in my life. I had to read it out loud to savor every word.

To really appreciate Radiance, you have to take it slow, it took me about a month to read and I’m happy that I did not read it quicker. Still, I think that I missed a lot, Valente made loads of reference to mythology, almost every name, both of characters and locations were picked because of different myths and legends that I mostly didn’t recognize. I think that it would made a great re-read because it will allow me to understand and like this book a lot more.

This book is a genre in itself, it was marketed as a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery  and even if I don’t have any ideas of what that means exactly, I would say that it does match the book quite well. The atmosphere of this book was unique to say the least and, even for the first hundred pages, it is a bit hard to believe in such a world where the Moon is the Hollywood industry and where humans managed space travel in the 20’s even if the movies are still silent, but, I don’t exactly know why, it still worked.

It is very difficult for me to rate this book, on several aspect like the worldbuilding, the ideas and the writing, I really want to give this five stars however, even if the structure was interesting, it made the book hard to read and understand and because of that, I would probably give this a 3 or 3,5/5 rating.

If you love whimsical writing, space opera, silent movies and mythology, you should definitely give Radiance a try !


I received this book from Netgally in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

8 thoughts on “Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

  1. I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve never read Valente. This was actually high on my list to be my first book by her. Glad to see a fair and objective review, and I’m very excited to check this one out. Hopefully I will have a better time with the structure, but knowing beforehand is very helpful!


    • It was also the first time I read anything by her, I don’t know if it’s the best place to start since it’s it is still the only book of hers I have read so far.
      Yes I hope that you’ll enjoy the structure more than I did! 🙂 It’s a great book and I feel bad about only giving it 3.5* 😛


  2. You had me at ‘mythology’… 🙂
    It’s one of the most powerful enticements one could use to draw me in, and since I never read Valente before (although she’s often mentioned with great enthusiasm) this might very well be the place to start. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Oo, this was on my list to buy when it comes out in paperback this fall. From what it sounds like, the premise doesn’t grab be initially (not into love stories or father-daughter dramas).. but the way you describe the writing is just my cup of tea – smart, whimsical, worth savoring. Usually for me the writing overrides everything else, so I’ll definitely be looking forward to this one now. Thank you for the lovely review!

    Liked by 1 person

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