The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Square Fish, 2011.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered so much whimsy in a novel. Every page — whimsy, whimsy, whimsy.
Did I mention whimsy? Catherynne Valente’s acclaimed YA novel is steeped in it.
And I loved every moment of it. Because behind the lemon-ice loving wyverns who want to be librarians and gargoyle customs officers, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland has some of the most beautiful, clever writing I’ve read in ages.
I’d been meaning to check out some Valente, her new novel Radiance piqued my interest when I first read about it earlier this year, and her award-winning Palimpsest sounds even more intriguing. But I’ve also read that Palimpsest is a difficult entry point and to start with her “Fairyland” series.
I’m glad I did — I can’t think of a more wonderful introduction to her magical prose than this little fairytale, a brisk, gorgeous read that you can savor while still finishing in an evening.
September is a restless girl from Nebraska, whose father is fighting Nazis in Europe while her mother works long hours at the factory back home. So when the Green Wind (winds actually have colors for their names rather than directions) visits, a dapper gentleman in a green smoking jacket and cloak, she immediately agrees to join him on a journey to the borders of fairyland.
Once in Fairyland, September finds the citizens in a mournful state, as they labor under the bureaucracy of the wicked Marquess and pining for the benevolent rule of the good Queen Mallow, who disappeared years earlier. During her adventures and quests she meets a variety of strange and wonderful creatures like A-Through-L, the aforementioned book-loving wyvern, and a herd of wild velocipedes.
Of course there is also tragedy. What fairytale doesn’t have some? And the underlying darkness that tempered September’s adventures with a tinge of melancholy is probably what kept me from complete cute overload.
That and the gorgeous prose. Writing like Valente’s is why I love reading.
And I’ll certainly be diving into Valente’s back catalog soon. This is the type of writing I love — eloquent, descriptive, vibrant, but not purple. I can hear the voices of my beloved Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco as well as echoes of modern faves like Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss, especially his surreal The Slow Regard of Silent Things.
And keep an eye out for Valente’s latest “Fairyland” novel The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, coming in March 2016.