Friday, July 20, 2012

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynn M. Valente

I have encountered several books in the past year that I was sure—before I read them—would become my new favorites. They each rode in on a wave of print and internet acclaim and had titles and concepts that seemed designed to appeal especially to me. But they all fell flat for one reason or another. And in a book you are prepared to love, that can be even more disappointing than when a regular book that you had no expectations attached to turns out to not be very good. This is all to explain why I avoided reading Catherynn M. Valente’s The GirlWho Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making for so long.

The title gave me goose bumps. Authors I love said it was amazing. The trailer was breathtaking.

So what if the book didn’t hold up?

I should have known better. This is Catherynn Valente, after all.

Having read Deathless and Palimpsest, both adult novels, I know that Valente’s prose and ability to penetrate to the heart of fairy and folk tales are flawless. Both skills are on full display in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland..., a wonderful novel about a girl named September who accepts a ride to Fairyland from the Green Wind and his leopard. As September travels, Valente acts as a word ninja, slipping in gorgeous language so stealthily that you don’t feel it piercing you until a few sentences down the page.

Valente’s exploration of the well-worn concept of the “chosen one” feels fresh and eminently satisfying. And September’s exploration of Fairyland is just as good. Some of the creatures she encounters are based in mythical tradition (witches, wyverns, etc.), but Valente always presents them in a new way, filtering the creatures through her own unique perspective. And many of the folk September meet, like the pack of wild bicycles or the hundred-year-old household items who have gained consciousness, are completely new.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a rare creature: a book that will excite the imagination and stimulate the literary senses. It’s the kind of book that a beloved aunt gives you when you are nine, and then you reread it every few years, always finding some new and previously unnoted form of nourishment between its covers.

If you like The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland..., you will probably also enjoy the books of Diana Wynne Jones and Un Lun Dun by China Miéville.

(Fairyland cover image, from Goodreads; Fairyland trailer, from the author's web site)

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