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


“The sun hitched up her trousers and soldiered on up into the sky. September squinted at it and wondered if the sun here was different than the sun in Nebraska. It seemed gentler, more golden, deeper. The shadows it cast seemed more profound. But September could not be sure. When one is traveling, everything looks brighter and lovelier. That does not mean that it is brighter and lovelier; it just means that sweet, kindly home suffers in comparison to tarted-up foreign places with all their jewels on.”

A word of warning before I begin—this is going to be a glowing review. A very glowing review, as this book has even overtaken the phenomenal The Night Circus as the best book I have read all year. Are you buckled up and ready? Then let’s begin.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship of Her Own Making is the story of September, a little girl from Omaha. She is terribly bored by her life, and subsequently the Green Wind whisks her away across the Perverse and Perilous Sea, in order to have adventures in Fairyland. She discovers a land of muted magic and enjoyment, thanks to the ruler of Fairyland, known as the Marquess. And as the Green Wind says of the Marquess:

“All little girls are terrible, but the Marquess, at least, has a very fine hat.”

After being blackmailed by the Marquess, September embarks on a quest to retrieve a sword, with the help of a Wyverary (when a Wyvern and a Library love each other very much… well, you understand.) and a wish-granting Marid. I won’t go any further for fear of spoiling anything, but let me just say that I found the ending to this book to be among the best I have ever read, and an absolute pleasure to read.

First of all, Valente has complete mastery of the English language. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d slept in a circle of toadstools, wrestled a bear, and pulled a sword from a stone in order to win this skill from an evil witch. The way she effortlessly evokes emotion and images with the simplest of phrases is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis. I was constantly left in awe of her prose, which is deliberately similar to that of a stereotypical fairy tales, only with ten times the genius.

Her characters are similarly wonderful. September, the main character, is a three-dimensional model of the classic fairy tale girl. Like Alice or Dorothy, just more interesting, and more likable. Though she often expresses her desire to be “irascible and ill-tempered”, she often shows a kind and gentle side, as well as a fierce devotion to her friends. Though she is fun to read about, sympathetic, entertaining, and an all-around just a smashing character, she still pales in comparison to Valente’s supporting cast, which is simply stellar. I’ve already mentioned the Marid, Saturday, and the Wyverary, A—L (or Ell for short). These two are the most important of all secondary characters, being September’s quest-mates, and they certainly do not disappoint. Saturday is unique, a genie of the ocean, so to speak. I found his diet particularly fascinating, though I won’t spoil the surprise for you. And as for A—L, well, Ell is now one of my favorite characters of all time. Humorous, witty, lovable, flawed… just about everything you could hope for in a character is there. Not to mention his hilarious story about his birth and heritage. The Green Wind, despite his relatively small part to play, is such a magical, charming Harsh Air that even when I had finished the book, it was him I wanted to read more about, not Saturday or Ell (or even the key!). And the smoking jacket that he gives September is just priceless, providing humor and sympathy even in the bleakest portions of the book. The Marquess is a brilliant villain, who gives you something to root against in the beginning, but also is revealed to be far more sympathetic than she initially seems. Her story is terribly tragic, and I felt genuinely sorry for her by the end of the book.

All of September’s stops on her journey are filled with all the same whimsy as a normal fairy tale, but with a darker tone. The autumn provinces. The winter provinces. Meeting Mr. Map. The hundred-year old furniture. The great velocipede (it means bicycle) migration. All of it is completely entrancing. The plot of the story is beautiful, it, despite all its outward appearances, is not your average fairy tale. There is real danger to the characters, and growth throughout the book. And the plot twist at the end got me. I honestly didn’t see it coming, and was genuinely shocked. It has been a long time since that has happened to me, and so it was a wonderfully pleasant surprise in this case.

Are there any problems with this book? Well, I tried to think of one, and I came up short. There’s a very brief section in the third quarter of the book that drags a little. There are still some unanswered questions (but it’s a series, so I can’t really complain). Maybe the ending was a little saccharine? I honestly can’t really think of much.

In conclusion, this is a wonderful, whimsical book; a traipse through tried clichés and tired metaphors that somehow manages to breathe new life into everything it touches. There aren’t really any notable problems, and has one of the best casts of characters I’ve seen in a long time. And the best part is, anyone can read it. Its appeal is entirely cross-generational. My library has it filed under YA, it could just as easily have been in the children’s section. Anyone could read this book and enjoy, no matter their age. And everyone should, too.

Final Rating: 9.99/10


2 thoughts on “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

  1. clukeh says:

    A quick note – I actually did find out more about the Green Wind! It is contained in a short story Valente wrote that Tor have made free here:

    Though the story is not as magical as the book, I still found it entrancing and beautiful. And the opening metaphor is simply one of the best I have ever read. Fans of this book should certainly not hesitate to read it.

  2. […] The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente ( […]

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