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Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

August 12, 2013

58. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (2009)
The Girl Who, Book 1

Length: 247 pages
Genre: Mid-grade fairy tale

Started: 18 July 2013
Finished: 24 July 2013

Where did it come from? Downloaded from Amazon.
Why do I have it? Ana’s fault.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 06 July 2013.

A stolen child and
a quest through Faerie, but not
like you’ve read before.

Summary: September is in the middle of washing the dishes when the Green Wind comes in through the kitchen window and offers to take September away to Fairyland. Her father is away fighting a war, and her mother is always at work at the factory, so September bids farewell to her home in Nebraska without a second thought. The Green Wind is not allowed into Fairyland proper, however, so after he gives September some advice on travelling – and warns her to steer clear of the Marquess, who rules Fairyland – September finds herself deposited in the Perilous and Perverse sea, with a single shoe, a desperately helpful jacket, and enough magic to be able to see some of Fairyland’s secrets. She soon meets some witches, whose stolen spoon she promises to reclaim from the Marquess, and A-through-L, a half-wyvern, half-library who is willing to accompany on her travels to Pandemonium, the capital. But, as is always the case in Fairyland, September’s quest is more difficult than it seemed at first, and she must face dangers and unravel the mysteries if she is to have any chance of surviving, let alone completing her task.

Review: This book was amazingly good. Or, more accurately, 80% of this book was good, and 20% of it was amazing, but that 20% came at the end, and turned what was an enjoyable but not particularly mind-blowing book into something that I am raving over.

So, for most of the book, I was thinking “okay, it’s a modern twist on Victorian children’s fairy tales,” with a fourth-wall-breaking narrator and some self-awarely-old-fashioned language and a more modern sardonic perspective of some of the moralizing done in classic stories of this type, but still hewing true to the original formula: disaffected child is taken away to Faerie, where things are strange and magical and where she has adventures and faces dangers and learns lessons about courage or friendship or home or whatever. And, as I said, I was fine with all of that. I like fairy tales in all their forms, I like modern retellings that wink at but don’t talk down to their audiences, and I was getting along well with Valente’s sense of humor. If that had been all there was to the book, I would have finished it a happy camper.

All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless at all. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown. –Location 120

But that’s not all there was to the story. In the last few chapters, as September finally figures out what’s really going on, the whole perspective of the story shifts, and it’s brilliant. Valente manages to take a completely fresh look at one of the more troubling and dissatisfying aspects of the fairy stories she’s emulating, while still managing to make it fit into the tone and conventions of those very stories. I don’t want to give too many details away, for fear of spoiling that moment of revelation, but it was a twist that bowled me over, stole my heart, and threw everything that Valente had done with the first part of the book into a completely new light, both plot-wise and literary-wise. I probably would have read the sequels regardless, but the last few chapters rocketed them up to the top of my list. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This book relies on a lot of the conventions of the “stolen child” fairy story – books like the Narnia series or Alice in Wonderland or The Phantom Tollbooth – so if you grew up with those books, and/or if you like more modern twists on the form (Neil Gaiman’s Stardust comes to mind), then The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a light read that will be right up your alley.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Book Monkey, Good Books & Good Wine, The Guilded Earlobe, Layers of Thought, Things Mean a Lot, and tons more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 1656: ““September, the bicycle herds, well, I suppose they’re called voleries, not herds, right, Saturday?”” – A flight of birds.
  • Location 2113: “Gradually, the trees turned from wood and leaf to something altogether stranger: tall black distaffs wound around with fuzzy silk and wool and fleeces September could not name.” – A staff that holds on its cleft end the unspun flax, wool, or tow from which thread is drawn in spinning by hand.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2013 11:07 am

    I love the cover but don’t think this is for me.

    • September 1, 2013 8:32 pm

      Kathy – The illustrations are really lovely, it’s true!

  2. August 13, 2013 8:10 pm

    I enjoyed this and am quite keen to read the second one, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I love love love the long titles!

    • September 1, 2013 8:33 pm

      Jenny – I am also a sucker for the long Victorian-esque titles.

  3. August 14, 2013 2:07 pm

    I really liked this, too! I’ve got the sequel but I haven’t read it yet. I MAY have to reread the first book since I can’t remember what the twist is at the end, haha!

    • September 1, 2013 8:33 pm

      Anastasia – Hehe, I’ve definitely had to re-read things for exactly that reason.

  4. August 18, 2013 12:22 pm

    This sounds like something I’d love! I love the sound of a half library half wyvern hahaha. I grew up with fairy tales and am somewhat obsessed with them in pretty much any form, so this is definitely going on my TBR!

  5. August 18, 2013 4:36 pm

    I enjoy fairytale retellings, I loved this book to pieces! The third book is coming out this fall.

    • September 1, 2013 8:34 pm

      Redhead – Oooh, something for my Christmas list! (Assuming I get to the second one by then, heh.)


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