I was honestly relieved when I ran across The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, because here is a book that has everything I was looking for.
Lately I feel like publishers are pushing so hard for books in the currently popular genre of vampires, magic, Game Of Thrones ripoffs, et cetera, that they’re not paying attention to the fact that half of it reads like bad fan fiction–full of predictable plot lines and really awful dialog. (Yes, I read fan fiction; we all have our guilty pleasures.) So I’m always happy when an author like Catherynne M. Valente, who knows how to write, gets published.
The story follows September, a girl who’s taken by the Green Wind to Fairyland, for reasons that aren’t made clear right away. Valente, who has a reputation for quirky, original elements in her stories, doesn’t just populate Fairyland with the usual fairies and witches. There’s also a wyvern who’s father was a library, a golem made from soap, a wairwulf (which is different from a werewolf; a wairwulf is a wolf all the time except during the full moon when he turns into a man,) and a changeling who rides with “the wild herds of Bicycles” during their annual migrations. Additionally, there are at least a dozen more weird creatures and characters that Valente somehow manages to stuff into the story without making it seem too crowded or complicated.
The story is beautiful all the way through, with a lot of clever twists and surprise elements. (Valente is very good at introducing some seemingly minor tidbit into a chapter, only to have it become a major plot point a hundred pages later when you’d almost forgotten about it.) The writing is gorgeous and it’s a very easy read without being simplistic at all. The story just flows nicely and logically.
The book is marketed for children, but I think the language is a little grown up for younger readers. I don’t mean that it’s too adult for them. There’s no sex in this book (okay, when I said this book had everything I wanted, I meant “everything appropriate for a book targeted to this audience” of course,) but the writing has a lot of tongue-in-cheek and grown-up phrases that only an adult is going to appreciate. At one point September is looking around at Fairyland and wondering if everything really is more beautiful there, or if the excitement of not being at home just makes it seem so:
When one is traveling, everything looks brighter and lovelier. That does not mean it is brighter and lovelier; it just means that sweet, kindly home suffers in comparison to tarted-up foreign places with all their jewels on.
You’ll find that kind of writing all throughout the book–stuff that would go over the heads of younger kids. There are also a few places where it gets a little violent; when the Marquess sends her sleeping lions after the main character, things get a bit ugly. Several places in the book are more like the older, darker, un-Disneyfied versions of Grimm’s fairy tales.
It’s a wonderfully told story, and a very satisfying read all around. Also, I just found out that Valente’s next book The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There just came out! So now I get to read another book with a fascinating story and amazing writing style, without having to look through the fan fiction archives once again.