P. S. Publishing (U.K.), 2009
Jacketed hardcover limited edition. A handsome cloth edition signed by Marly Youmans and the writer of the introduction, Catherynne M. Valente, with jacket image by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and interior by novelist-designer Robert Wexler. A larger run is the unjacketed limited edition signed by Marly.
"Book of the Year" for 2009 Books & Culture Magazine
"Val/Orson. Marly Youmans. PS Publishing. I quote from Catherynne Valente's excellent introduction to this novella: 'It is Shakespearean in its sensibility, with its enchanted wood, its twins, its doubling and quadrupling of couples and families, its fairy brood. It is difficult to say that it is a fantasy novel, and difficult to say it isn't.' The word 'magical' has been overused and misused to such an extent that it has perhaps lost its potency, but this tale, set among the redwoods of Northern California, is truly magical. I'm sorry it is not as easily obtained as the others on this list, but I can attest—having ordered it from the UK myself—that it is by no means inaccessible. And you will be amply rewarded. More than any other book I read in 2009, this one insistently came to mind." --John Wilson, Editor
"Somehow Youmans manages to tightrope along that margin between the real and the surreal in this book to create a tension that harkens back to classic fantasy novels like W.H. Hudson’s Green Mansions and the works of Jules Verne.... As always, Youmans’ writing is something beyond mere prose. It’s near-poetry." --Greg Langley, Baton Rouge Advocate, 24 May 2009
"From the first chapter to the last, this novella delivers on all points." --Kelly Jensen, SF Crowsnest
"The spirit of the forest is alive in the beautiful writing of Marly Youmans' Val/Orson; a compelling legend of romance and mystery both ancient and modern at once." --Jeffrey Ford
"Incendiary, passionate writing propels Val/Orson, an utterly fearless story that takes chances and passes that test brilliantly. Brave, beautiful, and fey." --Jeff Vandermeer
"What a gorgeous tale! I'm always delighted to read a new work by Marly Youmans, and Val/Orson both enchants and satisfies: it is a combination of myth, Shakespeare, and modern environmentalism, with not a little magic thrown into the mixture, written in prose as lush as it is precise. A treat for anyone who loves fantasy or just a tale well told." --Theodora Goss
"Val/Orson is ambitious and multifaceted, definitely a literary read that is both faithful to the form and groundbreaking." --Charles Tan, Bibliophile Stalker
Novelist Clare Dudman interviews Marly and talks about Val/Orson:
Novelist Philip Lee Williams writes about Val/Orson: http://philiplwilliams.blogspot.com/2009/06/marlys-masterpiece.html
. . . This is a clever work of fiction, beautifully written and with the theme of the twin recurring throughout. Val’s love of nature comes over well, with the forest setting and his desire for a life in harmony with the environment portrayed strongly. Youman’s writing has a genuine feel for the landscape, so that the reader wants to wander beneath the forest canopy with Val, to follow in his footsteps as he leaves civilisation and all its troubles behind, and trees like Thoor Ballylee become every bit as much a part of the book’s dramatis personae as the human protagonists, given their own characteristics and distinct personalities. Infusing the work is an awareness of and respect for the trees as living beings, with every bit as much right to continue on into the future as the messy bipeds who stroll aimlessly among them.
These concerns underlie the story, but the conflict with NAXXIN, which at first looks set to give the book a more dynamic aspect, ideology in action, proves to be a side issue to more intimate and personal concerns. Love is the quality that animates this text, be it that of the various couples, of estranged brothers whose hearts cry out to each other or, on a grander scale, man’s love for the environment, his worship of the Gaian principle. After various misalliances and misunderstandings, alarums and excursions, Youmans brings the curtain down with happy ever afters all round and an ending reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which it elegantly and joyfully pastiches.
Val/Orson is a quiet, perfectly judged account of love and loss, of the feral child and what comes after, and lucid with intelligence and a true feeling for what is being recounted. --Peter Tennant, Black Static (UK)
"I was quickly sucked into the modern world Youmans created . . . This is a welcome addition to the library of readers of fantasy, fairy tales, and wildlife conservation stories." --Mass Movement Magazine
Inspired by the French medieval tale Valentine and Orson, this moving, insightful novella from award-winning author Marly Youmans reclaims a 500-year-old epic for contemporary readers.
Through the dazzling double-story of a stolen twin and the secrets of an ancient forest, Youmans roams also among the sweet spirits of Shakespeare’s romance plays.
Val/Orson opens with Val long saddened at the loss of his stolen twin brother. He has grown up in the California forest, climbing mysterious redwoods and finding his greatest pleasure in a landscape that seems alive. And sorrow for his lost sibling—his double—haunts his walks.
From boyhood, he has worked with all his intelligence and strength to save the ancient trees. Now Val's world is increasingly populated by environmentalists, sometimes dangerously radical, sometimes merely idealistic, and further shaded in connection with the disappearance of a particularly bewitching tree-sitter--a woman who has both captivated and confused him.
“I fear seeing a luminous being crouched by the hearth, ready to swing its intense light-drenched gaze toward me. I fear that I’ll never grasp the terms of my own damnation or what happened to the woman I knew only by the name of Diamond . . .”
Did she die in her wanderings? Is she still in the deep forest with her lover, mocking Val? As he searches for his lost twin, he must find out.
The sequoia groves are the stage where a company of figures worthy of a Renaissance “winter’s tale” (Fergus, the Sherwood band of tree-sitters, grief-shaded Bella with her wild inheritance, Clere, and mysterious others who seem close by, half-hidden in trees) engage, entertain, and challenge Val.
As their stories mesh and unwind, they lure Val deeper into the rich complexity of their narratives and toward revelation. And as the mystery in Marly Youmans’ magical world intensifies, Val moves from revelation to a stunning transformation as son, brother, lover, and steward of the wildwood.