Phoenixfalls's Reviews > The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own M... by Catherynne M. Valente
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May 25, 11

bookshelves: american, fantasy, fantasy-challenge-2011, female-author, metafiction, quest, traveling, young-adult, fairies, catherynne-m-valente, portals
Recommended for: Everyone who is a child, or who someday wants a child, or who has ever even been a child.
Read on November 12, 2013 — I own a copy, read count: 2

Back in 2009, Catherynne M. Valente published Palimpsest. One of that novel's main characters, a woman named November, defines herself by a 1923 novel called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, one in a series by Hortense Francis Weckweet about a little girl named September who says "Yes!" (enthusiastic consent, so to speak) to adventuring in fairyland, portal-fantasy style. That book is a through-line in November's story of helping to open up a very adult Fairyland to immigration from our world, and judging from the excerpts Valente provided it sounded delightful, full of whimsy and led by a marvelously spunky narrator.

And it didn't exist.

But one experiment in crowd-funding later, it did. Valente wrote it and posted it online; then it won the Andre Norton Award, leading to a contract with a brick-and-mortar publisher. And that resulted in the book I have in my hands right now. A book which completely satisfies all the promise implied in Palimpsest and which I can easily picture becoming a classic of children's literature.

Keeping true to what was implied about it in Palimpsest, Fairyland is set during WWI and is written in the tone of that era's children's literature. Valente is very much present as the Author, frequently breaking the fourth wall to confide in the reader and foreshadow what is coming next. Like the best in children's literature, she presents a fairyland that is full of wonders (a herd of wild bicycles, a wyvern who is the son of a library, and a little boy who met his mother before she gave birth to him, etc.) but also fraught with dangers -- dangers which our child protagonist can meet, but which push her to her limits and beyond.

It's a fairyland that jives with all our stories of fairylands, and when September stands at a crossroads and has to choose between paths "To lose your way," "To lose your life," "To lose your mind" or "To lose your heart" we know exactly which one she will choose -- and the many, many ways her choice is the worst. We know the rules about not eating fairy food and always moving widdershins, and so does September because she's a bookish child; but keeping with the theme of enthusiastic consent she doesn't let those rules or the very real danger stop her when she has to save her friends. And keeping with a theme that Valente often develops, nothing comes without a price, lacing the happiest moments with poignancy.

This is not my favorite of Valente's novels -- I prefer the gloriously ornate nested structure of The Orphan's Tales -- but it is an excellent place to start with her work, presenting glimpses of her absolutely exquisite prose and her deft hand with myth and folklore in a very accessible, downright conventional narrative. It is also the sort of book that the child I once was would have taken to heart and read to pieces; I hope, therefore, that many children get a chance to discover it and read it to pieces in turn.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh! I got a free download of this the first day it was released - legally, sheesh, she had it on her homepage. I'll have to figure out how to eread it, because I have some problems with that.

Phoenixfalls Have you read any of Valente's stuff before?

The actual book is quite nice to have too though. . . beautiful illustrations by Ana Juan. :)

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I tried her first book, um I think it was her first book anyway, and didn't get very far because it was a voluptuous mess, but her themes seem interesting, and it wasn't that she was a bad writer, just enthusiatically undisciplined. This is getting good hype though- NYT bestseller list, yo! - so I am considering it seriously.

Phoenixfalls Her first book. . . that would be The Labyrinth? I haven't read that one yet. . . I started with In the Night Garden, by which point she was firmly in control of her narrative.

Would love to read one of your reviews of this one!

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Yup, that was it. I could see why someone would like it, it was just so not for me.

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