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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
   Series: Fairyland #1
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Format: Hardcover
Year: 2011
Pages: 247
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Metafiction
   Subgenres: Faux-Victorian Portal Fantasy
Challenge Information: Fantasy Challenge category "Work that has won the Andre Norton Award"
Full Disclosure: As noted before, I am a Catherynne M. Valente fan girl. Deal with it.

Jacket Description
September is a girl who longs for adventure. When she is invited to Fairyland by a Green Wind and Leopard, well, of course she accepts. (Mightn't you?) But Fairyland is in turmoil, and it will take one twelve-year-old girl, a book-loving dragon, and a strange and almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish an evil Marquess and restore order.

Not since Oz has there been a land -- or a cast of characters -- so rich and entrancing.

My Review
Back in 2009, Catherynne M. Valente published Palimpsest. (My review.) One of that novel's main characters, a woman named November, defines herself by a 1923 novel called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, one in a series by Hortense Francis Weckweet about a little girl named September who says "Yes!" (enthusiastic consent, so to speak) to adventuring in fairyland, portal-fantasy style. That book is a through-line in November's story of helping to open up a very adult Fairyland to immigration from our world, and judging from the excerpts Valente provided it sounded delightful, full of whimsy and led by a marvelously spunky narrator.

And it didn't exist.

But one experiment in crowd-funding later, it did. Valente wrote it and posted it online; then it won the Andre Norton Award, leading to a contract with a brick-and-mortar publisher. And that resulted in the book I have in my hands right now. A book which completely satisfies all the promise implied in Palimpsest and which I can easily picture becoming a classic of children's literature.

Keeping true to what was implied about it in Palimpsest, Fairyland is set during WWI and is written in the tone of that era's children's literature. Valente is very much present as the Author, frequently breaking the fourth wall to confide in the reader and foreshadow what is coming next. Like the best in children's literature, she presents a fairyland that is full of wonders (a herd of wild bicycles, a wyvern who is the son of a library, and a little boy who met his mother before she gave birth to him, etc.) but also fraught with dangers -- dangers which our child protagonist can meet, but which push her to her limits and beyond.

It's a fairyland that jives with all our stories of fairylands, and when September stands at a crossroads and has to choose between paths "To lose your way," "To lose your life," "To lose your mind" or "To lose your heart" we know exactly which one she will choose -- and the many, many ways her choice is the worst. We know the rules about not eating fairy food and always moving widdershins, and so does September because she's a bookish child; but keeping with the theme of enthusiastic consent she doesn't let those rules or the very real danger stop her when she has to save her friends. And keeping with a theme that Valente often develops, nothing comes without a price, lacing the happiest moments with poignancy.

This is not my favorite of Valente's novels -- I prefer the gloriously ornate nested structure of The Orphan's Tales -- but it is an excellent place to start with her work, presenting glimpses of her absolutely exquisite prose and her deft hand with myth and folklore in a very accessible, downright conventional narrative. It is also the sort of book that the child I once was would have taken to heart and read to pieces; I hope, therefore, that many children get a chance to discover it and read it to pieces in turn.

My Rating
Overall Satisfaction:
   Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★★1/2
   Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★★
Read this for: The world-building, the characters
Don't read this for: N/A*
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Fail
Books I was reminded of: The actual Victorian(ish) portal fantasies -- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, etc.
Will I read more by this author? See "Full Disclosure" note.

*I tried. I really tried to come up with a weakness here. But there just isn't one. As I noted over on my personal blog, I prefer to read novels that are less transparent than this one; but in a YA novel I believe transparency is a positive, so I can't fault the prose or structure for that. The characters are wonderful, the themes are wonderful, the plotting is wonderful, there are a million different fantastical ideas. . . just read the thing. I cannot imagine why anyone would dislike it. :)


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 28th, 2011 12:58 am (UTC)
Remind me, whenever you see my post my review for this book, to come back and read yours! Right now, I don't want to read this and spoil anything!
May. 28th, 2011 02:21 am (UTC)
Will do!

(You're going to read it SOON, right? ;D)
Jun. 23rd, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
I never managed to get all the way through this when it was on the computer, despite having been part of the crowd that funded it. Reading it on my laptop just did not work.

I have read it though, since it came out in hardback, and I agree that it was thoroughly enjoyable. I think I like Palimpsest better, but this is a very different sort of book and I love it for what it is.
Jun. 25th, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I knew this existed before it was a paper book and never even attempted it, because I just can't stand reading on the computer for that long. And then I heard it was going to be traditionally published and I squeed. :)

I don't know that I can quite say I liked Palimpsest better. . . somehow it didn't click emotionally for me until several days after I finished reading it and so I have two somewhat contradictory impressions of it in my head that I need to reconcile on a reread, while Fairyland was a joy throughout. But it was. . . slighter. . . than Valente's adult fiction, so it definitely has to be taken on its own merits.

Have you read The Orphan's Tales or The Habitation of the Blessed yet?
Jun. 26th, 2011 12:29 am (UTC)
I find that even though I love her books, I need to have a certain amount of mental energy to read them, which has been in short supply over the past few years. I'm 2/3 of the way through book 2 of The Orphan's Tales and about halfway through Habitation of the Blessed. I have not yet read book 1 of the Orphan's Tales or Deathless. I really need to get on that.

When Palimpsest came out, I had read some things about it that intrigued me, and I went to a reading Cat gave on her book tour. Sooj, a singer/ songwriter friend of Cat's, writes songs based on Cat's work. She played at the reading and I bought the CD that was based on the Orphan's Tale, part 2, which is why I have read most of book 2, but not book 1. :)

I still think Palimpsest is my favorite, but maybe I just need to spend more time with the Orphan's Tales. It seems like the sort of book that really calls for repeated re-readings and just steeping myself in it.
Jun. 26th, 2011 01:02 am (UTC)
Oh, she's definitely an author I need to be feeling my smartest to read too. I can't imagine being only partway done with any of her books though. . . I always read them in as close to one sitting as I can, so that everything's fresh in my memory and I can catch all the little subtle clues that she scatters.

Haven't gotten to the point where I've reread any of her novels yet -- I only discovered her last year, and am still working my way through her back catalog. They do seem like the sort of books that will get better with each new pass through though -- I'm sure I've missed stuff, and like I said, the full weight of Palimpsest didn't hit me until days later.

But you definitely need to read the first part of The Orphan's Tales!!! I'm not sure that the ending will totally make sense without it. . .
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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