The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. This is now my second Valente book, after last year’s Deathless. While this one is definitely intended for children and the other as equally not, I deduce from both of these that Valente likes her fantasy on the dark and wild side. Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making feels a lot like Alice in Wonderland. as our heroine, young September, goes on a journey in a fantastical realm, meeting many interesting characters and places along the way. I never really liked Alice, though – the whole thing felt too random. September’s story was focused and purposeful while still whimsical, a much better fit for me. But to start at the beginning, it feels like World War II in Kansas, as September’s father is off fighting a war and her mother is working in a factory. September, as one would expect, finds her life dull and so follows right along when the Green Wind comes and carries her off to Fairyland. Once in Fairyland, at a crossroads, September is given the choice of losing her life, her way, or her heart, and chooses her heart. As she travels, she hears stories of the former beloved Queen Mallow and the current heartless and bureaucratic Marquess. The first people she meets are a trio of witches, and September promises to try to retrieve the spoon of the witch Goodbye from the Marquess, who in turn gives September an impossible mission to complete to earn it. On the way to the Marquess, September befriends a Wyverary named A through L, offspring of a Wyvern and a Library. Later on, a Marid named Saturday (a boy of September’s age) joins their party after September rescues him. He is dark blue and drawn with African-like features for a supporting character of unconventional color. As you can tell from the title, the book is written in flowery language. It has chapter titles like “The Wyverary: In Which September Is Discovered by a Wyvern, Learns of a Most Distressing Law, and Thinks of Home (but Only Briefly)” and is full of references to other beloved children’s books both new and old. The narrator is given a prominent voice, telling us not only plot pieces that September doesn’t know but also explaining how Fairyland and stories in general work. I found this to be delightful, but my mother reading the book found this voice to be arch and annoying. She also found the book to be too cruel for her to enjoy it as much as she’d hoped, causing me to go back and think about what she might have found to be so cruel. The Wyverary going around with his wings chained up on the Marquess’s command that no one be allowed to fly? September having to give up her shadow to prevent another child from being given to pirates? I’m not exactly sure, but I think that while there is definitely cruelty there, it felt to me like a child-like sort of cruelty. I don’t think that most children old enough to be aware that the world isn’t always rosy would be bothered by it. I quite enjoyed Valente’s Fairyland, even if I wouldn’t want to live there. While many things about the book are based on predictable fairy tale patterns, the journey was delightful and the ending still quite surprising.
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