Review: “A Delicate Architecture” by Catherynne M. Valente

3 of 5 stars.

This creative and charming tale re-imagines the life of a well-known folktale baddie. It is an origin story of a sort that I’d label as speculative folktale not unlike the way Tangled re-imagines Rapunzel, Wicked re-invents The Wizard of Oz, and Into the Woods toys with a half dozen traditional tales. However, this one does not offer up its more famous version willingly or quickly.

A girl, Constanze, grows up not knowing a mother and following in her father’s footsteps as a confectioner–the best confectioner. Their plates are butterscotch, her breakfast eggs are marzipan, and her pillows are spun sugar. Everything in her world is truly sweets and confections with the exception of her sugarplum fork made from a sparrow’s bones.

As she grows older, she wants to know about Vienna where her father made his fame, and about the emperors from whom he departed, and about her origin. About much hemming and hawing, the father makes Constanze a Dress-of-Many-Sugars and takes her to the royal court where she realizes her striking resemblance to the female emperor. However, she also learns that her eyelashes are licorice-flavored, her blood bleeds raspberry jam . . .

The enjoyable absurdity develops astonishingly as the Grimm tale emerges from this unexpected place.

This story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s “Urchins, While Swimming”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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