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Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente {Just Hatched}

Just Hatched Book Feature

Just Hatched is a feature where I share my first impressions of a book after the first chapter. Check out the announcement post for more information.

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente caught my eye as soon as it was announced because I love Valente’s Fairyland books and so am eager to consume anything she writes. However, that synopsis gave me pause because it is honestly hard to tell at all what the book is going to be about and it is pretty clear that it is going to unlike anything you’ve read before. It is definitely unlike anything I read before and I made it to page 200 before realizing that there are books by favorite authors that just don’t appeal to me and that’s okay! Check out a sample before you put money down, but if you are looking for something truly unique, this is a good place to start.

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente {Just Hatched}

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Tor Books on Oct. 20th, 2015
Genres: Adult, Alternative History, Genre-bender
Page Length: 432 pages
How I got my copy: Borrowed
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Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood—and solar system—very different from our own, from the phenomenal talent behind the New York Times bestselling The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony’s last survivor, Severin will never return.

Aesthetically recalling A Trip to the Moon and House of Leaves, and told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film.

2.5 Stars

How is the writing style?

Radiance is told as a combination of news articles, interviews, and scripts from movies that may or may not have actually occurred in the alternative reality Radiance occupies. A large chunk of the book seems to be from a man called Erasmo St John’s fictional perspective as a story is being told about him by a director whose daughter used to date him before mysteriously disappearing. I absolutely loved the prologue since it captured Valente’s style of whimsy and breaking the fourth wall, but the movie scripts and interviews just didn’t hold my attention. There is a lot of description of all the crazy locations in the solar system and it got to be a bit much for me.

General tone of the beginning

After the witty and clever prologue that made comments about the point of prologues, there are news articles that discuss Severin’s tragic disappearance and hint at the mystery that will be the driving point of the story. Severin’s father sets about to make a movie about Severin’s last movie about another mysterious disappearance. Things are just really meta okay?

Setting, genre, etc?

Decopunk pulp SF alt-history space-opera mystery set in an alternative Hollywood seems pretty accurate to be honest (from the synopsis). What that exactly means is hard to pin down. Definitely adult, definitely a strong science fiction element since humankind has spread out throughout the solar system. A classic Hollywood movie feel as well since they are making silent films. So mash up classic Hollywood with classic sci-fi in the weirdest sense and tell it all through scripts and interviews.


  1. My current read, leave me alone! (~5 stars)
  2. Reading in the near future *hides from TBR pile glare* (~4 stars)
  3. Hoping to get back to eventually (~3 stars)
  4. Probably not getting back to but someone else will like it (~2 stars)
  5. Don’t really want to push this copy on anyone else (~1 star)

I was thinking I’d end up at 3 stars for Radiance, but I have to settle on 2.5 since it is really unlikely I will be coming back to it, but I did make it pretty far before deciding to throw in the towel. You definitely have to like weird and purple prose to enjoy this one, but the right reader is going to find their new favorite book.

Have you read this one yet? Are you inclined to check it out?

Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings -Anya

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

© 2015, Anya. All rights reserved.


  1. This sounds interesting! Deathless is probably my all-time favorite book, so I’d be curious to read more of Valente’s adult fiction.
    Grace recently posted…“Aberrant Vectors” by JM GuillenMy Profile

  2. I read Deathless by her, which is her other adult novel, and I wasn’t really impressed unfortunately. So although I am sad that Radiance didn’t work out for you, I can see why.
    Valerie recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday #76My Profile

  3. Interesting. I”m sorry that this one didn’t work for you. It sounds unique but that isn’t always a good thing. This is in my TBR and it definitely sounds interesting. I didn’t know that it was told in a different kind of formats like interviews and scripts. I have been liking those kinds of books lately. I like the idea of reading a sample first though.
    Cassi @ My Thoughts Literally recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday – Quotes from BooksMy Profile

  4. I just started reading this last night, and I know exactly what you mean. It’s not a straightforward story AT ALL, and I can tell it’s going to take some work on my part. I adore her writing, but I also adore story and characters, so hopefully both of those will appear soon. I plan to finish it, so we’ll see how it goes for me!
    Tammy @Books, Bones & Buffy recently posted…Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: MADE TO KILL by Adam ChristopherMy Profile

    • I really love her writing too, but apparently I need more story context to be happy, haha. I hope you ended up liking it!

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