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

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The best thing about this book, for me, was that Valente spends a lot of time not talking down at her readers. There’s a notable amount of snark in here, and it’s nice. I know that I would’ve appreciated it as the terrible sarcastic child I was.

Younger me would have also enjoyed the language, which goes on these lovely poetic tangents. Unfortunately, marathoning the Romantics for about six years got my love of prolixity out of my system: words are nice, but if they aren’t really contributing to the story, I won’t bother. That said, plenty of people will enjoy the lyricism.

Valente’s approach is reminiscent of the classics, including the way the narrator addresses the audience, and the aforementioned descriptions. The content, though, is more modern: despite the framework of an epic quest with all sorts of imaginary-type things (the friend who recommended this to me compared it to Baum’s worldbuilding in Oz, and I agree), there’s grounding in the fact that World War II (I think) is happening in the background and a lot of this affects September’s (the titular ‘Girl’) perception: she thinks about things in terms of what her mother would do, and the absence of her father is mentioned several times.

Also, the things September has to do in the story, and the ending, are refreshingly uncondescending. There’s no heavy moral layer where the heroine engages only in actions which have been signed off by the PTA, and the ‘final boss’ is morally ambiguous. At least…when you get there, you’ll see.

Unfortunately, I read this on my phone’s Amazon Kindle app, which doesn’t give a good sense of the illustrations. Nothing doing there, but from what I could see there was a classic Alice in Wonderland type aesthetic going on, which is totally appropriate.

The Kindle edition comes with some commentary from the author, where she mentions dissatisfaction with books like C.S. Lewis’ where the kids come out of Narnia and just slide back into their old lives, and that’s nice too. No one gets to come out of this adventure truly unscathed, although of course the focus is on September so that’s who we learn about the most.

The one thing I would change is trim this book a bit—it’s not rapidly paced to begin with, and those multi-paragraph descriptions bring it down. But I know I’m not wholly within the target audience, as far as that goes, and I think most of y’all will enjoy that aspect.

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