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

Thursday, September 13, 2012
Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Genre: young-adult, fantasy, fairy tales
Series: Fairyland #1
Pages: 256 (paperback edition)
Published: April 2011
Source: bought
Rating: 5/5

Gather up your courage and your wishes; grab a little pinch of luck - and prepare to be swept away, in a ship of your own making, to a land unlike any other. September is a twelve-year-old girl, Somewhat Grown and Somewhat Heartless, and she longs for adventure. So when a Green Wind and a Leopard of Little Breezes invite her to Fairyland - well, of course, she accepts (mightn't you?).

When she gets there, she finds a land in crisis and confusion - crushed by the iron rule of a villainous Marquess - she soon discovers that she alone holds the key to restoring order. Having read enough books to know what a girl with a quest must do, September sets out to Fix Things.

As September forges her way through Fairyland, with a book-loving dragon and a partly human boy named Saturday by her side, she makes many friends and mistakes; loses her shadow, her shoes and her way. But she finds adventure, courage, a rather special Spoon, and a lot more besides...

This book is:
  • utterly magical
  • full of imagination
  • not without dark themes and occurrences
  • unique
  • told in inimitable and thoroughly cheeky prose brimming with deeper meaning
  • filled to the brim with adventures
  • creative with new fairytale creatures
  • a wonderful mix of classic fairytale staples blended with new interpretations

This book is not:
  • just for children 
  • simple

I've had my eye on this particular book for a while - with that cover, it's not hard to see why - and, thankfully, it is that rare novel that holds up to hype, expectation, and hopes. From the first page with the cheeky omniscient narrator to the last with its hints to a sequel, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is delightfully absurd tale of magic, corrupted power, friendship, and perseverance. Catherynne Valente can spin a tale like no other (as I learned reading the heartbreaking Deathless earlier this year), and her adaptation of the fairytale genre is like no other I've read.

One part Persephone myth, one part Alice in Wonderland, and one part odd and wonderful, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is not just a children's story. With darker elements and themes subtly wwoven into the episodic frame, Valente creates a story that will resonate with readers of all ages. While I wouldn't say there is an exces sof plot - or even much of a general one, as the story weaves its way around the Fairyland - the Wyverary, Gleam, Saturday and September herself will more than keep the audience firmly tuned in. 

With sly humor, and subtle allusions to other famous novels, this weirdly charming, occasionally quite funny little book balances wisdom with adventure, creativity with evil, and the modern with the fantastical. It's a highly original novel, full of some of the best prose I've had a chance to read in some time. Nearly perfect, engrossig and lively, I can't really express how much I loved my read of this. Without a doubt, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is more than worth a read. It's a winner from beginning to the too-soon end.

"But luck can be spent, like money; and lost, like a memory; and wasted, like a life."

"All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. [...] (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.)"

"Only because you are small. You are young and far from your Death, September, so I seem as anything would seem if you saw it from a long way off — very small, very harmless. But I am always closer than I appear. As you grow, I shall grow with you, until, at the end, I shall loom huge and dark over your bed, and you will shut your eyes so as not to see me."

"Do not ruin today with mourning tomorrow." 


  1. I see this book on the shelves ALL THE TIME and keep thinking it's just another children's story, but I'm glad to hear it isn't. I really want to give it a try, especially with Catie from The Readventurer's positive ratings of this series, so on my shelf it goes! :) Wonderful review, Jessie!

    1. It's so good, Keertana. One of the best books I have read this year, no lie. It's more of a series of adventures than pushed forward by a plot but it's amazing. I think you would find a lot to enjoy! And thank you!!


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