The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland –Catherynne Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente is like a finely made pastry with layers of cream, strawberries and honey, mixed in with dashes of spicy cinnamon and a hint of savory salt. Oh yes.

[What the heck is going on outside?]

Readers in other book threads mentioned Valente’s Orphan Tales books (there are two), and after having read those, well, it was a no-brainer to read her newly released book with this impossibly long title. It’s already won the Andre Norton Award, and blurbs on the cover by Neil Gaiman, Tamora Peirce, Holly Black and Peter S. Beagle.

Now, aside from all the effusive praise by the big name writers, is it worth the read? Hell yes!

Valente once again ventures in fairy tale land merrily subverting and banging down hard on gender inequalities in the real (fairy) world with a velvet covered anvil of get-a-clue. There’s a terrific sequence involving creatures who study postdoctoral magic, and while it’s pointed out that only females born on Tuesdays get to study this deep magic, the credit for a discovery is casually given to a male (by a male)–and he is immediately corrected by a female character who says, “Men are so awfully fond of attributing women’s work to their brothers!”

The Girl in the title is September, a twelve year old girl in the United States whose father is a soldier in World War Two and whose mother is a mechanic putting airplanes together. She’s swept into Fairyland by Greenwind on his friend Leopard. Her being carried away is similiar to the way Persephone was carried off (minus Hades’ motive), and it’s important later on in the book.

Valente populates her story with fantastical creatures, like a golem made of soap, a half Wyvern half library creature; a green jacket; Calpurnia Farthing, wild velocipede rider; Nasnas, half-people who combine to make a whole person; and plenty of others including a pair of witches who explain why they share a husband. It’s all very logically explained as are a few other relationships in the book. And of course, there’s the Marquess the clever, evil girl about September’s age who rules Fairyland with an iron fist.

The story has several mysteries woven through September’s odyssey, not the least of which is, what happened to Queen Mallow, whom everyone loved, who tamed Fairyland and gave it its golden age? Why does the Marquess want September to find Queen Mallow’s sword? And there’s a lot more. Every chapter, every place, that September travels through keeps her off-guard. She’s a smart girl, more compassionate and caring than she realizes, with a powerful sense of right and wrong, and the ability to choose the hard path over the easy one. And she asks the right questions! Have you ever read a book where the protagonist never *asks* the right questions, never asking questions at all, assuming they’re getting all the information they need, or coming into bad situations because things weren’t explained to them at all, because they failed so horribly at asking questions and getting them answered?

September usually asks the right questions and other characters also guide her to asking the questions that will give her answers she’ll need (most of the time), and even so, she still gets into trouble. Oh, if only more writers would do this. September would make a fabulous private eye in any urban fantasy or mystery novel.  Valente will sometimes overdo the September guiding, but that’s also a function of the subgenre she’s writing in (child goes through the portal, finds herself in a strange country).

There’s so much more than I thought possible packed into this story, every chapter had something new. Half-way through the book, I kept thinking there was no way Valente could top this or that chapter, or have anything else happen to her characters, and I was constantly wrong.

Highly recommended.

That’s weird. I hear more LOUD screaming from the freeway, and crashes, and a lot of helicopters in the air, like yesterday. The heli’s are shaking our windows, they’re so close. And screaming in the street? What? Lots of police sirens.

Okay, this is weirder-I locked our front gate after I saw a few neighbors stumbling down the street. There’s a truck in the back yard of a neighbor by the freeway. It’s smoking, and there’s some people up walking that look like they should be dead, or at least in shock. I’m calling my husband. In a minute, I’m going to get my kid from school. Crap. They’re *moaning* and I saw one attack another neighbor walking her dog! Be back later-I gotta get my kid!

ETA: Welcome to Blog Like It’s the Apocalypse 2011! 😀


  1. Gabriella says

    Damn, my library doesn’t have this one. I reserved another of her books, The Hbaitation of the Blessed.

  2. Maria says

    Barricade the windows when you get home, okay? We just finished reinforcing the windows in my building, and honestly I’m just glad I can’t see what’s looking in.

    I’m glad to hear this book is so awesome. I met the author at WisCon and she’s gloriously awesome (and doesn’t know how to set up a keg! lol) — I hope she’s in a safe house somewhere.

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