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

(Just to warn you, this is the most incoherent post ever. Book hangover + coffee = CHAOS.) What happens when I don’t know how to describe a book: MAGICAL UNICORN SPARKLY BOOK TA-DA! Well, no unicorns, but there are MAGICAL WYVERNS! This book is just like a dream – the writing style is the best kind of flowy, the adventures are extravagant (as you can see from the title) and a bit twisted and erratic, and there’s just a tinge of bitter darkness and despair to make the sweet sweeter! Also, our heroine’s name is September, and I’m posting this review in September. MAGIC. Doesn’t get better than that. ūüíĀ

Introduction

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn‚Äôt… then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

Discussion

First of all, how shall I address this book? That name is the longest thing ever. TGWNFIASOHOM? Okay, TGWNFIASOHOM it is. Although I’m still going to have to copy-and-paste that acronym every time.

I added this book to my to-read list on one of my very first Friday Finds posts, and my reasoning back then was that its very long title was interesting. I am still in awe of that title. And the great thing about this long title is that it confused me, because I ended up having a “que sera, sera” type mentality going into the book: whatever will happen, will happen. The synopsis is equally confusing and reminds me of Alice in Wonderland craziness, so I find it interesting that they market this book towards people “who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass.” There’s a dream-like quality to TGWNFIASOHOM, from the writing style to the character development and the plot line – and the events that occur feel like things I would see in my dreams. Just a short description of Pandemonium, the capital of Fairyland, is enough to show you this:

Pandemonium spread out around her a city of cloth. Bright storefronts ran ahead of them, built with violet crinoline and crimson organdy. Towers wound up in wobbly twists of stiff, shining brocade. Memorial statues wore felt helmets over bombazine faces. High, thin, fuzzy houses puffed out angora doors; fancy taffeta offices glimmered under the gaze of black lace gargoyles. Even the broad avenue they stood on was a mass of ropy, pumpkin-colored grosgrain.

Although the synopsis talked about the fickleness of the Marquess, almost every character in this story is unpredictable. You think you know how someone will act, and then they end up doing the opposite thing. Or they talk around your head in circles until you feel like imploding. September seems to be the most stable character, and even she is confused by how the characters around her act. It’s surprising and somewhat disturbing that, even by the end of the story, I still can’t figure out some of the characters’ goals and personalities, but this has to be the rare book where I’m actually okay with the cliffhanger-ish ending. I WANT TO KEEP READING.

Other sources of unpredictability and confusion are the aspects of time and rules in the story. There’s a sense that both of these variables are pliable and not concrete things. We could say that they follow the laws of magic, but magic is also unpredictable, so really, that doesn’t help.

Ana Juan’s illustrations are also magical, and really complement the fantastic fairy tale imagery provided by Valente. I always look forward to Juan’s drawings at the beginning of each chapter as a better guide than the chapter subheadings, which just add more confusing information. For example, Chapter 6 is called “Shadows in the Water: In Which September Crosses a River, Receives a Lesson in Evolution, and Loses Something Previous but Saves a Pooka.” Each of those things indeed happen in that chapter, but it just requires a lot more thinking on my end, and it’s hard to do that for every chapter…

Conclusion

Um, not sure what happened with this review/rant, but TGWNFIASOHOM was a fantastic book – just don’t go in with your usual fantasy-book expectations and you’ll be fine. ūüíÜ

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