Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making: A review

Valente, Catherynne M. 2011. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making. New York: Feiwel and Friends.
"Tell me the rules," said September firmly.  Her mother had taught her chess when she was quite small, and she felt that if she could remember which way knights ought to go, she could certainly remember Fairy rules.
"First, no iron of any kind is allowed.  Customs is quite strict on this point.  Any bullets, knives, maces, or jacks you might have on your person will be confiscated and smelted.  Second, the practice of alchemy is forbidden to all except young ladies born on Tuesdays --"
"I was born on a Tuesday!"
"It is certainly possible that I knew that," the Green Wind said with a wink.  "Third, aviary locomotion is permitted only by means of Leopard or licensed Ragwort Stalk.  If you find yourself not in possession of one of these, kindly confine yourself to the ground.  Fourth, all traffic travels widdershins.  Fifth, rubbish takeaway occurs on second Fridays.  Sixth, all changelings are required to wear identifying footwear.  Seventh, and most important, you may in no fashion cross the borders of the Worsted Wood, or you will either perish most painfully or be forced to sit through a very tedious tea service with several spinster hamadryads.  These laws are sacrosanct, except for visiting dignitaries and spriggans.  Do you understand?

And to her credit, the 10-year-old and wiser-than-her-years, September, does understand the rules; and leaves her humdrum life in Omaha to enter Fairyland - without so much as a wave to her hard-working mother, a thought for her off-to-war father, and sadly, a shoe.

Evoking obvious comparisons to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the Chronicles of Narnia, September wonders, will it be "a marvelous adventure, with funny rhymes and somersaults and a grand party with red laterns at the end"? Or will it be a serious tale, in which, "she might have to do something important, something involving, with snow and arrows and enemies"?  September does not know, but the narrator gives the reader a clue,
Of course, we would like to tell her which.  But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move.  And, perhaps, we do not truly know what sort of beast it is, either.  Stories have a way of changing faces.  They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers.  This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.
But thankfully, we as readers, can get in, and well we should! This is a fabulous debut novel.  A Dramatis Personae preceding the story helps us to identify the many inhabitants of Fairyland, including, but not limited to, September's sometimes traveling companions, A-Through-L, a Wyverary (part Wyvern, part library), Gleam, a Lamp, and Saturday, a blue Marid.

And while September does not fathom the depth of the story into which she has been deposited, she nevertheless has an innate sense of purpose, and a willingness to create her own destiny.  Unlike Alice, who passes through Wonderland in random fashion, September charts her own course.  Much like a narrative computer game, September is presented with a series of quests, problems, and puzzles, each one requiring foresight, courage, and personal choice.  (Would you rather lose your way, your life, your mind, or your heart?)  In each instance, the brave little September is suprisingly resilient and equal to the challenge.

Each delightfully titled chapter, "Shadows in the Water: In Which September Crosses a River, Receives a Lesson in Evolution, and Loses Something Precious but Saves a Pooka," tells the reader what will happen, but Catherynne Valente manages to surprise us anyway. The black and white illustrations are a perfect addition to the story and offer just enough detail while leaving room for imagination.

This is a rich, complex, and thoughtful story, yet it reads as a delightful and enchanting romp through a bizarre Fairyland, where we may be frightened, but not terrified, and joyously giddy, but on guard nonetheless. Don't wait for an invitation from the Green Wind.  Read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making today.  You will not be disappointed! A fabulous debut fantasy for children, young adults and adult fantasy fans!
Click here for the link to hear Catherynne M. Valente read Chapter I.

Chapters I - VIII are available for preview at the author's site.

More reviews @
Fuse #8
Publishers Weekly
and many other blogs.

1 comment:

  1. I should correct myself. When I mentioned that this is Ms. Valente's "debut novel," I meant her debut in children's literature. Catherynne Valente is an accomplished author, as you can see on her website,