L'Esprit de L'Escalier by Catherynne M. Valente - Book Review

Write on: Sat, 21 May 2022 by  in Assaph's Reviews Read 496

A promise of a Hugo-award finalist retelling of one of my favourite greek myth caught my interest for a quick read.

What to Expect

Expect a Gothic novelette, full of brooding atmosphere. The ancient Greek gods are the rock stars (literally) of the modern world, and we get to explore what might have been were Orpheus successful in rescuing his wife from the underworld.

What I liked

Brilliant prose, heavy on dark and melancholic Gothic vibes.

What to be aware of

It's a very short read, that still feels too long. Don't expect anything to happen, really. Valente explores the basic question of what's it like living with a zombie for the majority of the story.

And while she added a layer of modernity in Eurydice's 'I didn't ask to be rescued' attitude, I felt it was unfair to the original myth, depicting Orpheus as self-obsessed narcissus.

Felix's Review

Felix says that's what you get when you mess with dead things without understanding. That was neither the way address the shade of Eurydice, nor the way to treat her once in the world. Here, have his card - he'll show you how to treat your dead relatives much more efficiently.


Read this for the prose, the modern take on Gothic atmosphere.

Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He's the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.


Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin. 

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, kids, cats, and - this being Australia - assorted spiders. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.



Twitter: @assaphmehr