May 03, 11
Read from January 26 to February 23, 2011
“The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” by Catherynne M. Valente is written in the tradition of books which both children and adults can enjoy. I do have a confession to make, while I enjoy the author’s writing style, the subject matter of some of her books is a bit dark for my taste, which is why I was very pleased when I heard about this book. It is an adventure that beautifully balances whimsy and suffering, so that it is neither too dark nor too light.
The author finds ways to play with the classic fable format while still surprising readers. Throughout this book are moments of cleverness and compassion, risks and revelations. September is a precocious young girl who expects things to happen the way they do in stories (which works well because of course she is a character in a story). This awareness of the story is not intrusive; as the book says early on: “September didn’t know what sort of story she was in. Was it a merry one or a serious one? How ought she to act?” The narrator on the other hand does know what sort of story it is, but is not the type to spoil things.
Knowing it is a story, September is aware that her choices can have unforeseen consequences later and she approaches her decisions mindfully. Combined with the literal way some choices are presented (signposts, meals, The Marquess’ request) this gives the reader a clear understanding of who September is.
Of course half the fun in this type of book is the colorful characters we meet along the way. The author creates characters in both quantity and quality. In spite of the number of characters (there are 30 entries in the Dramatis Persona) she has a way of making them complex and unique. Where else can you meet a Wyvern of unusual parentage, riders of wild velocipedes, and an alchemist spriggan?
It is no wonder that it won The “Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy”.