The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland: Wordy Wednesday

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland #1) Author: Catherynne M. Valente (Author), Ana Juan (Illustrator)
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends 5star
Publication Date: 2011 Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale

Why Picked: Fairy Tale, Links to Gaiman, So many more reasons

First Line:

Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink and yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.


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’t . . . 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. [1]


This was a reread of sorts for me. I listened to the audiobook this time, read by the author.  I guess when reviewing audios there really are two reviews in one. The first, the more important, is the story. The second is the reader, which is less important unless it is so bad it makes the story unbearable. So we begin with the story.

I adore Cat Valente and this was my first introduction to her. I found her online when she began writing this during a very difficult period in her life. She began writing it online as a crowd-funded story when her partner lost his job, her writing career was just beginning to take off and their wedding was just around the corner. It went on to win the Nebula Award and was the first book to so so before traditional publication.

It is one of those stories which for me renders me almost wordless. I tell people all the time it is wonderful and one of my favorite, both because of the story and because of her magnificent use of language. Now, I will tell you I have looked at the 1-star reviews, which I do often when I love a book this much. I need to know why people hate something I so obviously love. Words like twee, complex (HUH?), old-fashioned, pretentious, and well, the main character just isn’t even pretty were used. Well, OK, then.

The language is complex and whimsical and lovely. It drew me into the story and like Alice and Oz and like them made me want to stay.  One of best things I read about this book was written by  Cat herself on John Scalzi’s Big Idea.

And the thing is, if at any point in my life, including this one, I found my way into another world, my first impulse would not be to reject it and seek a way home. It would not be, like Buffy, to elevate “ a normal life” beyond all other sources of power and awe. I just don’t know how to tell that story. It doesn’t interest me. As a child, I wanted magic, desperately. I would have given anything for a door to open in a wood and let me out of my life. I never understood the need to end the dream and get home–perhaps because I never understood “home” as a metaphor for “safe.” Not all homes are safe. Not all places of safety are home-like. But I would have run wild through a magical kingdom and never looked back. Talking animals? Yes. Witches and monsters? Yes. Dark queens? Absolutely. Give it right here. I would have said yes to all of it.

You can add her Fairyland to my list. I want a Wyverary and marid to be my companions. I want to go on an adventure to get a spoon for the witches because everyone knows witches need hats and spoons. Every part of this book was a love song to all the things I wanted as a girl and to all the things the girl in me still longs for.

Now the second part of the review, the reader. Cat read this one herself. I am not a huge fan of the audio book format and only have two others to compare it with, James Marsters’ Dresden Files and Susan Duerden’s Chime. These two are both such high caliber work it seems unfair to compare. On the one hand I love that the author knows the story so well. However, one of the things I love about actors reading is their ability to “voice” characters which I felt was missing from this reading.

So in the end, read the book, linger over the language and be swept away by old-fashioned whimsy.