Good Gods, that title is long and wordy. Hello all, Krys here with a guest review from the illustrious Greg Baldino, a good friend and frequent drinking buddy of mine. He’s going to tell you about a book while I go on all sorts of madcap adventures. Everyone play nice.
Wait, hold on… wrong “The Girl Who” title.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is fantasy author Catherynne M. Valente’s first foray into YA fiction, and the story of how it came to be is interesting enough in itself. It originally appeared as a book-within-a-book in her adult novel Palimpsest; the story of a sexually transmitted city. (And yes, that book warrants its own review– if you’re interested, tell BP.) Girl was written on Valente’s website to encourage donations during a period of low income, (Sadly this writing gig doesn’t pay what it used to. On the other hand, people don’t die of Polio anymore,) and was well-received enough to not only get picked up by a publisher, but was the first crowd-sourced book to ever win a Nebula award– specifically, the Andre Norton Award, which puts her in the company of J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, and Holly Black among others.
The story itself is one that will seem familiar enough: Girl goes to fantastic otherworld, meets weird people, faces evil mother figure. But it’s the details and the voice that make this book sing. Living in Nebraska during World War 2, while her father fights overseas and her mother builds airplane engines, September has a visitor at her window just after her 12th birthday: the Green Wind.
“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes, and be delivered to the great sea which borders Fairyland?”
Needless to say, September says yes, and is whisked away to Fairyland where she meets an incredible assortment of characters that would make L. Frank Baum go “Hang on, a what?” Including, but not limited to, a soap golem, a pack of roving velocipedes, a wyverary (his mother was a wyvern, his father was a library), and her own death. The world, like Valente’s language, is rich in imagery and color. Not surprising, given Valente’s background as a poet. In fact, even if you don’t have a kid around, you may find yourself wanting to read it aloud.
Perhaps most important is that unlike other girls in similar stories of this ilk, September chooses her adventure rather than being swept up in a tornado or falling down a rabbit hole. That’s right, she guns it and jumps right in– LIKE A BOY! This is important to me personally, as I have an abundance of nieces and worry about them learning from storybooks that if they are just quiet and polite they will get through whatever malady befalls them.
Valente’s got herself a series going on here, as a prequel novellique The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For a Little While was published as an ebook earlier this year, and the sequel The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is forthcoming. Also her musical collaborator S. J. Tucker has produced a song based on the book which you can and should listen to here.