Thursday, June 17, 2010

Laini Taylor, illustrated by Jim di Bartolo/LIPS TOUCH THREE TIMES


Usually, in the first paragraph of a book review, I try to describe the book--and I will do that here. But since this book is a multidimensional package, complete with art and a gorgeous typesetting job, don't let the injustice of my description be your only experience of the book. This book is literary YA fantasy, yes, but it also has a special appeal for a lot of different people--graphic novel enthusiasts, anyone who loved Gaiman's Stardust, anyone who loved Kostova's The Historian.

Lips Touch is a collection of three short stories. The first, "Goblin Fruit," is about a misfit high school girl who, after years of being ostracized and made fun of, suddenly catches the interest of the most beautiful boy in school--but the boy might really be a goblin trying to steal her soul. The second story, "Spicy Little Curses Such as These," is set during the British Raj in India, where a curse has been placed on a baby girl: she will have the most beautiful voice in the world, but anyone who hears it will drop dead. The third story, and in my opinion the richest, is called "Hatchling." It is the story of the Druj, a race of soulless immortals who thrill-seek by entering the bodies of humans, and of one human captive who manages to escape their realm. Each story features somewhere within it a kiss--a kiss that tears the characters' lives apart. (Hence the title of the book.)

The stories are particularly special because of Taylor's brand of world-building. In not very many words, she manages to create three very rich and separate worlds: the first seems to be loosely based on Eastern European Romani tradition; the second story is rooted in the Hindu/Buddhist tradition of Yama's Hell (and a large part of it actually takes place in Hell); the third is loosely inspired by Zoroastrian traditions from ancient Persia. In many ways, the book is a string of completely original multinational fairy tales--very readable, very escapist. Taylor's writing is hypnotic, too, and you'll find it very difficult to put the book down. The stories each leave a very strong impression.

Laini Taylor and Jim di Bartolo are a wife/husband collaborative team, and although Taylor must get full credit for the exquisite and many-textured stories themselves, di Bartolo's contributions to the finished product (the book) are really quite special. This book is totally worth collecting.

8 comments:

Catherine Stine said...

Good cover, good title, great story ideas! I'll have to check it out.

Laini Taylor said...

Thank you for the beautiful review. It was a pleasure to read :-)

Kristan said...

Wow, you totally sold me. Headed to Amazon now...

JES said...

Your last sentence is the convincer. Coming from someone who probably crosses paths with more books than any ten average readers, "totally worth collecting" says quite a lot.

Just today I came across this quote, from Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style:

"In a badly designed book the letters mill and stand like starving horses in a field. In a book designed by rote, they sit like stale bread and mutton on the page. In a well-made book, where designer, compositor and printer have all done their jobs, no matter how many thousands of lines and pages, the letters are alive. They dance in their seats. Sometimes they rise and dance in the margins and aisles."

Thanks for pointing out the design and typesetting of this book; it sounds as though they dance in the aisles!

Dawn Simon said...

Great review for an amazing book! I love LIPS TOUCH THREE TIMES. Each story is unique and memorable. Laini Taylor is also an incredible speaker, so if anyone has the opportunity to hear her, don't miss it!

Angelica R. Jackson said...

I read this, and it's up there with some of Angela Carter's and Tanith Lee's stuff (their good stuff, I mean, not the obscure stuff). I liked the last story the best as well, although the twist to the first one was great.

Incidentally, I first heard about the book from a critique partner, who had an agent recommend it as an example of lush fantasy accomplished without being overly wordy.

Eeleen Lee said...

great review, i've been wanting to read this book, which I hope gives the YA horror genre a much needed shot in the arm

Pinay said...

I absolutely loved this book! I could read it over and over again, just for the sheer beauty of its prose. Laini Taylor had to have made a deal with the devil to create such a literary masterpiece (Ha-Ha!). Lips Touch Three Times should be required reading for everyone, especially high school students and aspiring novelists. This is the way it's done, folks. The stories and illustrations are achingly gorgeous and haunting. I wish it had won the National Book Award (it was a 2009 nominee). Kudos to Arthur Levine and Cheryl Klein for editing what will surely become a literary classic.