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

June 26, 2012

September is a twelve-year-old girl, Somewhat Grown and Somewhat Heartless, and she longs for adventure. So when a Green Wind and a Leopard of Little Breezes invite her to Fairyland – well, of course, she accepts (mightn’t you?). When she gets there, she finds a land crushed by the iron rule of a villainous Marquess – she soon discovers that she alone holds the key to restoring order. Having read enough books to know what a girl with a quest must do, September sets out to Fix Things. As September forges her way through Fairyland, with a book-loving dragon and a boy named Saturday by her side, she makes many friends and mistakes, losing her shadow, her shoes and her way. But she finds adventure, courage, a rather special Spoon, and a lot more besides . . .

 I remember the buzz surrounding this book when the American edition was released last year, so I was really pleased to see Corsair publishing it in the UK this month. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy and be whisked away with September on her journey to Fairyland!

I can quite happily say this book deserves every bit of the hype surrounding it! It is truly everything you will ever want from a fairytale and more, and that’s all down to Catherynne Valente’s incredible talent for writing. Not only does she have one of the most wonderful imaginations I’ve ever come across, but she has a true gift of being able to create the most beautiful prose. There is literally not a single line that hasn’t been thought through and constructed with care.

Some people out there may assume this is only a children’s story, and far too childish for adults to enjoy. But believe me when I say no matter what age you are, you will fall in love with this story. Whether you’re an adult reading it aloud to your child (which it seems perfectly made for), or you’re reading it for your own pleasure, you will be full of nostalgia for your own childhood and the magical stories your imagination either created or stepped into, whether it be through a wardrobe or a rabbit hole. There is so much fun to be had whilst reading this book, and what better reason could there be to pick it up? For young adults and teenagers, there is a whole world of new vocabulary and ideas just waiting for your perusal. Put simply: there is a lot to be learnt from this novel.

September is a lovely protagonist and it is the narrator’s voice that really brings her to life, as she interrupts the story at times with her own ponderings. The narrator, who could be said to be Catherynne herself, teaches the reader little lessons as the story progresses, about growing up and approaching adolescence. She uses lovely little whimsical metaphors for such lessons, for example; when September comes to a crossroad on her journey, several signposts pointing in different directions say ‘To Lose your Mind,’ ‘To Lose Your Life,’ ‘To Lose Your Way,’ and ‘To Lose Your Heart’. September chooses to lose her heart, and the narrator cries out that we as readers have probably experienced the loss of our hearts at least once so far in life, and it is hard for us to watch her take this route. This is one of many examples, but I really thought they brought something special to the novel, and gave it so much more meaning than you would ever have expected.

The important thing about this novel, is that the secondary cast of characters are just as memorable and dazzling as the protagonist herself, which can sometimes be a rarity these days! From the wyverary (a wyvern whose father was a library, therefore he is called a wyverary), to the three witches named Hello, Goodbye, and Manythanks, and of course the wonderful Leopard of Little Breezes, there is a whole host of fantastical creatures here waiting to feed your imagination! Each one of them has stayed with me long since finishing the book.

You may be wondering why, seeing as I quite obviously loved this book, haven’t I given it a five star rating? Well in truth, I dabbled for ages in whether or not to give it five, but when it came down to it, I had to give it four. I can’t quite put my finger on why, whether it’s that sometimes the whimsical elements sometimes seemed a bit too overdone, a little too random for my tastes, or whether I craved something just that little bit darker, what with it supposedly being categorised as a teen novel. But it has to be said, I do think this is a truly astonishing novel that no one should hesitate in picking up, no matter what your age. If you enjoyed books such as The Wizard of Oz, or The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, or even Harry Potter, then this should definitely be added to your wish list right now! It is a beautifully presented book, with gorgeous illustrations, and it certainly deserves a prominent place on any book collector’s bookcase.

A sequel titled The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is expected to be released next year.

I’m incredibly eager to read something else by Catherynne Valente now, so if anyone has any recommendations of where to start, please leave a comment below!

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is out now now, published by Corsair. A massive thank you goes to the publisher for providing me a with a review copy.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2012 20:02

    I need to read this… I saw Valente do a reading of a piece from the sequel, and it’s just fantastic!

  2. Cassie permalink
    June 26, 2012 21:44

    I just couldn’t get into this and I think it was because I had the idea of the book in my head and it wasn’t matching up to my idea. BLEH, stupid expectations. Maybe I’ll give it another try after reading your blog.


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