Sunday, January 20, 2013

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

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult,
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)

Cover - Copy
I’m the kind of person whose inner kid never gets dead-beat when it comes to marveling at new things with unadulterated delight, even if the shell cradling her is already twenty one years old. While this means finding extraordinary things in the most mundane of situations (sans, of course, the maturity diminishment), it also extends to the kind of media I consume. I don’t want to become one of those people who turn away from what they think are kid’s stuff and say, “Comic books? Cartoons? What are you, eight? I’ve outgrown all of those a long, long time ago.” I’m all for the good story, whatever form or medium it comes in.

This is why my fascination for fairytales still flares up vibrantly. There’s a wonderful concoction of revisionist tales and fantasy stories to this day that I’ll never tag as “just for kids.” And this is also why my attention was readily arrested by Catherynne M. Valente’s Victorian-esque The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making when I heard of it for the first time.

Blurbs and back-cover synopses can be a tad misleading and may inflate a memory balloon of a girl who fell into a rabbit hole, but this book’s more than just an Alice in Wonderland adventure. It’s a story that doesn’t only have the ability to bubble out a laugh from your inner kid’s throat—it also has the capacity to revive that inner kid, had it been sleeping under mattresses of off-kilter judgments and prejudices acquired through adulthood.

September on a Leopard September riding the Green Wind’s Leopard

At the surface, the story follows a rather generic blueprint. Twelve-year-old September gets invited by a creature called the Green Wind to the magical realm of Fairyland. Being stuck in a bland, adventure-less pothole of a house, she accepts in a flash. But she finds out that Fairyland is in chaos and crisis under the iron rule of the Marquess, and she is the only one who can put everything in order. How can an ordinary girl like her do it?

Expect a splash of colorful imagination that burst at the seams: cities unspooled from vivid threads and every textile imaginable, towns baked from the warmest and tastiest of pastries, all of them changing positions in the map. From the pen that spun out such multihued setting, you wouldn’t expect a cast of characters that would pale in comparison. There’s Lye, the rather forlorn soap golem; A-through-L, the humorously bright Wyverary (wyveryn + library? I join September’s doubt about this suspicious parentage); Saturday, a taciturn, wish-granting Marid; a flock of angry tsukomugami; grease-drinking and tire-gnawing fairies; and an untamed herd of bicycles.

Art2The Marquess and Iago, her panther 

Couple that with the cute sketched chapter openers, and there’s no reason why you should not consider this an amazing lit-treat.

September’s journey could have been all but one caucus race, but Valente stitched everything together to form a superbly coherent masterpiece. It has the potential to carve its own space in the classics shelf. Beneath all the marvelous elements that could steal gasps from a child, there’s a storyline that can pinch the heart and tickle the brains of all ages. In creating September, Valente has molded a new heroine that’s a clear portrait of all of us. She represents courage emanating from innocence, the fear that sprouts out upon knowing how the world can inflict pain unto us, and then the newborn courage to banish the aforementioned fear, the kind of bravery we acquire when we knew we’d rather be hurt than the ones we love. It’s the classic chronicle of growth, only wrapped in magic and sprinkled with genuine tears.

The story also touches on escapism, issues on authority, the power of stories, and ala-Symposium nudges on finding one’s soulmate.  Valente’s prose was also breathtaking in its beauty; the wordplay carries a hint of campfire narrating, shadowed by an almost musical quality to it. The whole book sings. Every sentence was lyrically whimsical. There’s no page where I couldn’t pull out a magnificent quote, but I’m taking this paragraph in the book (at random, take note):
“You see, the future is a kind of stew, a soup, a vichyssoise of the present and the past. That’s how you get the future: You mix up everything you did today with everything you did yesterday and all the days before and everything everyone you ever met did and anyone they ever met, too… Magic is funny like that. It’s not a linear thinker. The point is if you mash it all up together and you have a big enough pot and you’re very good at witchcraft, you can wind up with a cauldron full of tomorrow.”
Those who hungered for more when closing the book would be satisfied because Valente has spawned a prequel and a sequel. The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For a Little While follows the story of Mallow who appears inCircumnavigated as the “late queen” before the Marquess takes the throne from her. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels Therefollows Circumnavigated, centering on September’s abandoned shadow, Halloween, who becomes the ruler of Fairyland Below.

I think I’ve started yet another series that I would follow to the end. So it’s “For kids ages 12 and up”? Hey, I’m twenty-one, and I have an inner kid that’s alive in kicking with me. I’m definitely included under that umbrella! If you’re reading this, I recommend you to pick up this book and get lost in its magic.

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