The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
(The Fairyland series, Book 1)
Catherynne M. Valente
Fiction, YA Fantasy
DESCRIPTION: Twelve-year-old September - born in May - doesn't think twice when the Green Wind comes to the kitchen window and offers to take her for an Adventure. She's young enough to still be Somewhat Heartless, and though her mother loves her very much (as does her father, though he's off being a soldier for the Government), washing dishes in Omaha hardly compares to riding the Leopard of Light Breezes between the worlds to Fairyland. Of course, any little girl knows that there's more to Fairyland than sightseeing - it wouldn't be much of an Adventure, after all, without a little danger. But all those boys and girls in the storybooks come home safe and sound in the end of it all, and so should September. Sure enough, she's hardly in Fairyland for half a day before she's met witches and befriended a Wyverary, a great red beast who claims to have been sired by a Library and who is an expert on anything, so long as it begins with the letters A through L. There's some talk of a lost Queen and a wicked Marquess, and it's a bit strange that she has yet to see an actual Fairy, but on the whole her Adventure is off to a grand start!
Storybooks, it turns out, never tell the whole tale. It's the narrators and novelists who are to blame: everyone knows they're prone to lies and mischief, and thus only
half-truths about Fairyland ever reach the human world. September soon finds herself in the middle of an Adventure far more dangerous than anything she's read... one that may not have room for happy endings, or even going home.
REVIEW: Stories like this must tread a very fine line. On the one side, there's Wonderland, or Fairyland, or wherever the young human protagonist finds themselves visiting, by choice or luck: a world full of whimsical impossibilities and metaphors given flesh. On the other, there are the needs of the plot, developing characters and creating a story arc. Quite often, authors fall on the former side of that line, leaving the story to fend for itself while they revel in spinning candy-fluff while dancing about with clever turns of phrase (or at least turns of phrase that must have seemed clever at the time.) This book is a rare example of finding that very fine line and sticking to it. Valente spins her candy-fluff and dances with her words, while somehow managing to create reasonably intricate characters in a story with real dangers that - remarkably, given the wild and illogical nature of Fairyland - actually makes sense. September makes a bold but not infallible heroine, and her native companions can't always protect her from the dangers of the journey, though they do try. She quickly becomes more than a simply proxy for the reader, with a history and personality that directly affect the story. Taking after her mother, a plant worker during World War II who taught her that all broken things may be fixed with enough effort, September takes an active part in her Adventure and Fairyland's problems, rather than drifting along like a wayward tourist while other people do all the work around her. The Marquess makes a terribly devious foe, alternately sweet and ruthless. Though this is the first of a (stated) five-part series, it wraps itself up fairly neatly, if not quite cleanly: September suffers significant setbacks and lingering losses, and it's no mere click of the silver slippers to return home. The writing itself also deserves a mention, playing with the reader and the narrative in a manner evocative of the best of Lewis Carroll, yet never losing sight of the story. This is a book that practically begs to be read again as soon as you finish, not simply because of the lovely turns of phrase but to see how it all ties together.
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