Thursday, July 21, 2011

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

Valente, Catherynne M. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.  Feiwel and Friends, 2011.

12-year-old September gets swept off to Fairyland by the kind and paternal Green Wind, where she expects to have some diverting magical adventures but instead finds herself on a quest that pits her against the nasty Marquess who rules with an iron hand.

As the Green Wind muses to September at a point when her fortunes are at their lowest, her story "seems familiar to me so far.  A child whisked off to a foreign land beset by a wicked ruler, sent to find a sword..."  There are shades of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Wizard of Oz, and most especially Alice in Wonderland.  As in these classics, September journeys through strange lands, meets stranger creatures, and must battle her own weaknesses and those of others.  The pace is so quick that neither the reader nor September ever get to know the people and places she encounters, which does create a distancing effect. 

The characters that accompany September do make a lingering impression - a Wyvern named A-through-L, who is charmingly half-Wyvern and (on his father's side) half-Library, and an enigmatic Marid named Saturday - as do myriad inanimate objects (or what would be inanimate objects in our world) such as an eager-to-please green jacket and a loyal golden key. 

And September herself is an interesting character.  Unlike many fantasy characters, she does not suffer much of that soul-wrenching Faceoff With One's Own Dark Side; she pretty much does the right thing instinctively.  But she suffers such awful things in this book, and comes through them with such pluck, that readers will pull for her all the way.  Though she tries to steel herself by calling herself an Irascible Child, she is mostly a very brave one.

While this book didn't have enduring emotional resonance for me personally, except in certain small but key episodes (the killing and eating of a fish, for instance, which shimmered with simple, strong emotion), I think that many readers will find this novel entertaining.  And some will find it astonishingly gripping and moving.  It's unusual enough, despite its familiar tropes, to recommend to lots and lots of kids ages 9 to 12.

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