Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things , undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. That is why we must close them up in thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

This is a beautiful book. It even looks beautiful, with curlicues and rich colours and dragons (who are not really dragons) all over the cover. It looks like the kind of book little fingers will grab hold of and refuse to let go except to relinquish it to their own children. It is the story of September, bored in Omaha with her father away at war and her mother working all hours to build aeroplanes. One night she steps out of the kitchen window into the embrace of the Green Wind and the Leopard of Small Breezes, and is whisked away to Fairyland, which has fallen under the thumb of a cruel, bureaucratic Marquess.  There she meets a host of wonderful creatures to help her on her quest; a lonely golem crafted from soap who washes her courage, a blue boy who must always submit, and the loveable A-through-L, a Wyverary (his mother was a wyvern, his father was a Library...)

September is wonderful. She would describe herself as irascible and ill-tempered, but she is also loyal, courageous and clever. She misses her home, but more than once she turns down the opportunity to go back because it would mean leaving her friends in danger. She sacrifices her dress to make a sail for her ship, and her own shadow to save the life of a little Pooka girl. She’s not immune to despair, and tantrums, and fatigue, and she seems very alive, a more empowered Alice, a less-than-perfect Dorothy.

“...Ship of her own Making” sails on the back of a rich tradition of children’s fantasy literature; there are shades of Alice in Wonderland, of Oz, of “At the Back of the North Wind” and Narnia. One of the delightful things about this book is its self awareness, which, in the hands of a less skilled writer, could have come across as arch or knowing. Here, it’s just a fact:

“There's more than one way between your world and ours. There's the changeling road, and there's the Ravishing, and there's those that Stumble through a gap in the hedgerows or a mushroom ring or a tornado or a wardrobe full of winter coats.”

The book is not without its sinister moments, or its gory ones, and the story of the embittered Marquess is tragic, as Fairyland slips through her fingers and she tries to keep it by controlling and restraining the very magic that makes it what it is. Perfect for anyone who has ever danced hopefully widdershins around a fairy ring, or double-checked the back of an old wardrobe, just in case...

About the reviewer: Jo, the cake-obsessed chair of Bristolcon, is a reviewer, blogger and fantasy author whose fourth novel, "The Art Of Forgetting" is due out this summer from Kristell Ink. Her blog-ramblings can be found at, and you can track her down on Twitter too (@hierath77). She often frequents pubs and coffee shops, and she is very amenable to bribery.

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