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Title: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
  Series: Fairyland #3
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Format: Advanced Reader's Copy
Year: 2013
Pages: 248
Genre: Fantasy, YA
  Subgenre: Portal Fantasy
Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of the ARC through the Amazon Vine program. I'm a Valente fangirl, as always.

September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

My Review
I really, really liked The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. But much though I liked it, I could tell it was never going to be my favorite of Catherynne Valente's works, and after rereading it and then reading The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There I remained firm in that belief. Much though I adored Valente's world-building, much though I relished Valente's ever-muscular prose, much though I delighted in Valente's unexpected bits of poignancy, there was still a simplicity of outlook at the core of both books that kept me slightly at a distance. In both books, no matter how sympathetic Valente made the villains, September was still able to draw a very clear line: this is right and this wrong, and this is a thing I could never do, no matter how hurt I might be.

It is an outlook I understand in books aimed at children and teenagers but which, as an adult, I find. . . somehow inaccessible. It is not relaxing to me, as I assume it is for other people; instead I find it very slightly invalidating.

So while I expected to enjoy The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, I did not expect to be greatly moved by it. And at first I was, if anything, a little disappointed. This third novel felt rougher than the previous two, some of the world-building seemed slightly pro-forma, and for the first time in this series Valente's pacing for information reveals seemed slightly off -- I wondered where a character had disappeared to in a scene and was not given the answer for several paragraphs, making it feel as though Valente had forgotten him/her. Part of this may be because I read the ARC -- in one scene the narrator stated that a character had been left behind, but then the character was mentioned twice more afterwards, an obvious error that I assume will be fixed in the final copy. So some of the roughness in other scenes may be similarly amended.

But as the novel went on, I became increasingly convinced that at least part of the unevenness in tone was intentional. September is fourteen now, caught in that thorny place between childhood and adulthood, struggling to figure out who she is meant to be amongst all the conflicting messages she has been given by the world around her. She is aware of Saturday as a boy in a way she wasn't when they first met, and she has begun lying to herself.

And Fairyland. . . Fairyland has changed with her. Circumnavigated was about choice, about saying yes; Fell Beneath was about dealing with the consequences of one's choices; Soared Over, I think, is about how you respond when your choice is taken away, when your actions are irrelevant, when the world will do what it wants for good or ill and you have no power to change it. It's so much more complicated, suddenly, than I gave this series credit for, and that is both heartbreaking and deeply satisfying to me.

It does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, which none of the previous books have, and the plot is somewhat meandering even accounting for what I think is deliberate messiness, but this book excited me the way the rest of the series did not, so I give it my strongest recommendation.

My Rating
Overall Satisfaction: ★★★★★
  Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★★★
  Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★★
Read this for: The themes.
Don't read this for: The plot.
Bechdel Test: Pass
Johnson Test: Fail
Books I was reminded of: Just the rest of Valente's work.
Will I read more by this author? Of course!


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 19th, 2013 04:24 am (UTC)
I recently reread the first book so that I could finally continue the series—but I still can't find it in myself to do that, yet; I don't feel ready, I suppose, See: my frequent issues with series, especially ongoing works; also the first is so important to me and I don't know if I'm ready, by which I mean emotionally prepared, to change/augment my experience of it. But when I am, this puts me in high hopes for what I'll find. What ultimately makes me so hesitant is that this is exactly what the series needs and what I would expect to find in Valente's work: progression, emotional growth, the books thematically mirroring September's experience within them. The first book did that, obviously, but a story about choice that never looks beyond that choice, to its consequences and denials, is more comfortable—but lacks conviction.

I'm rambling! What I mean to say is I don't think I'm ready to read these sequels yet, but this makes me think that when I am, I'll appreciate them.

By the bye, Valente clarified in her Reddit Q&A that September is multi-racial (I was wondering about this after my recent reread). I don't know if Saturday reappears in this sequel, or if he should be considered a person of color—his physical descriptions read that way? but since he's also a mythical being, that may be presumptuous/problematic?—and regardless this doesn't make for a clearcut Johnson Test pass, but I thought you might be interested at least in September's background if you hadn't read the Q&A.
Nov. 20th, 2013 03:27 am (UTC)
I was really, really pleased with the way Valente grew the series with September in this book -- I definitely don't think you'll be disappointed on that score!

I hadn't read the Q&A, and I've gotta admit my initial reaction to September being Word-of-God multi-racial is a bit of a side-eye. I've now read the first book twice and the other two are fresh in my memory, and I didn't notice any hints that she was anything but white. I'll admit I wasn't looking for them -- based on the illustrations and the books Valente was obviously in conversation with (all those Victorian fantasies!) I assumed she was white, but nothing in the books ever twigged me otherwise. It's like Dumbledore being gay -- if most of your readers are going to miss it, it doesn't really count. Next time I read the books I'll be paying more attention, but at the moment I'm a little reluctant to count her.

For Saturday, no. Just no. Somebody made a comment about the Prester John books too, when I said they failed the Johnson test, arguing that they read all the creatures as POC because of the way they were othered, and it made me mad enough to spit. A lot o SF/F novels do that thing where they use non-human creatures as analogous to POC in our world, usually to make a political point (often even one I agree with!), but ultimately they do that to make a point to white people. POC don't need that lesson, and it is frankly gross to basically tell POC "People like you don't belong in my book, but here, you should relate to this robot/alien/mythological monster instead, they're oppressed just like you are!"

Obviously I know you aren't making this argument, and Valente hasn't made this argument, and Saturday is actually more of an edge case than the Prester John characters because he's human-shaped and dark-skinned and drawn from Arab mythology, but ultimately he is BLUE, not black or brown.

Sorry for the rant, but this is one component of a very long blog post I've been meaning to write for a couple of years about looking at who the audience of a thing is, who it's aimed at and who it affects -- to me, the Bechdel Test, ultimately, is about and for women, and the Johnson Test, ultimately, is about and for POC, so when I look at if something passes or fails I am looking from those perspectives, looking at "Can a woman/POC find a community in these characters?" rather than the white/male dominant perspective of "Will a man/white person be alienated from these characters?" I hope that makes sense?
Nov. 24th, 2013 10:54 pm (UTC)
On my reread of the first book I noticed that descriptions of September's skintone were dark—one passage midway through the book that I of course can't find now seemed to explicitly, although very briefly, indicate her as non-white. But the art most distinctly does not support this, and in a book like this—written for children, with lots of illustrations, illustrations in which I'm pretty sure Valente had direct input—the art becomes part of cannon.

If I were to guess, I'd say that Valente is aiming for "multiracial in the sense that white is not a default but her race doesn't really impact this story, therefore it can be a non-explicit background detail." It's an optimistic viewpoint but a flawed one, for reasons you don't need me to tell you!

Likewise, no worries about the rant. These were exactly the caveats I held; I'm just not in the position to pretend to speak on them, especially when you're more familiar and entitled to give voice to them.

The distinction you make about these tests functioning as tools for—and about—women and POC is damn useful, and indicated why the tests are so useful, no matter their other flaws.
Nov. 25th, 2013 01:21 am (UTC)
If I were to guess, I'd say that Valente is aiming for "multiracial in the sense that white is not a default but her race doesn't really impact this story, therefore it can be a non-explicit background detail."

Yeah, that seems to be where a lot of liberal white SFF authors like to hang out. But it's a cop-out, because race is *never* completely irrelevant, because it changes the way the other characters and the audience perceive you. So, for example, there's a scene early in (I think) the second book where September's classmates are being kind of mean to her, and the book states that this is because she's *different* now that she's been to Fairyland. And her classmates, as far as I can tell, are white (I remember one of them being blonde, and that being the only physical descriptor, so I extended that whiteness to the rest of them for lack of any other detail), so if September's white I can take the reason given (her difference post-Fairyland) as basically factual, but if she's *not* white in a predominately white school then I wonder if she was *always* an outsider (because of her race) and it's only post-Fairyland that she's more aware of her outsider-ness, or that she's happy that Fairyland happened because it gives her a *reason* the others shun her, or any number of other more complicated readings.

The only way her multi-racial background would be meaningless to the story is if the world itself was equally mixed-race, normalizing her racial background. Which I would be fine with! I'm all for ahistorical fantasy, because it's just as important to imagine a better world as it is to point out the flaws in this one. But if *that's* the case, then Valente *really* needed to do more to make that explicit -- it's the flip-side of Kate Elliott's "The Status Quo Does Not Need World Building" post, things that differ from the status quo *do* need explicit world-building because otherwise the reader will simply bring all their normal assumptions to bear.

But all of that's a little beside the point, because I agree, in this book the illustrations do have to be considered part of the canon, and while it's problematic with real multi-racial people to say they don't look non-white therefore they don't count as POC, in deliberately crafted artwork a character's perceived race is all there is, and I'm pretty sure most people (in the U.S. at least) would perceive September's race as white and white only.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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