Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publication Date: 5/10/2011
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Blurb(GR): 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. With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.
I am generally one for simple, blunt truth. My brain doesn’t like to decipher complex and ornate metaphors and I hate reading through layer upon layer of language. I’m usually just waiting for the author to get to the point. But then, something like this comes along and just makes me question everything that I thought I knew about myself. The writing here is highly imaginative and odd and funny and a bit absurd. It’s descriptive and clever and maybe occasionally just a bit fussy. But, all this shine and glimmer and show has some real substance underneath it. (And honestly…I liked the shine and glimmer most of the time. There isn’t one page of this book that I couldn’t pull a gorgeous quote from.) Ms. Valente certainly does “get to the point” and the point is real, honest, emotion and a gorgeous coming of age story.
September is a twelve year old girl who finds her life dull and tedious, and so, when the Green Wind flows in one day with a flying Leopard to take her off to Fairyland, she goes without a thought. She doesn’t even spare a goodbye for her parents, who are both rather missing in her life anyway. In Fairyland she initially gets swept up in novelty and adventure, as she meets glorious new friends and takes on a random quest. But she soon realizes that all is not well: the Marquesse reigns, imposing strict taxes, restrictions, and bureaucracy on every citizen.
The similarities to Alice in Wonderland are evident, but this book also makes little nods to many other notable fantasy series. (And I seriously doubt Alice would ever fashion her own boat out of fairy drift-scepters and then sail it bald and in the nude.) The writing reminds me of Neil Gaiman, or I think that if China Mieville had a sweet, optimistic little sister she might write a book like this. However, even with all of these nods, this book feels inventive and original.
I do love fantasy that’s character-driven and relatable, but sometimes Ireally crave fantasy like this: where everything is brand new. I want to think about what it might be like to be born half a person, or created out of soap. I want to imagine that I can have my courage cleaned and find a jacket that loves me and cares for me. I want to know what kind of adventures my shadow would get up to if we were ever separated.
But even with all of these oddities and inventions, this book has a strong undercurrent of the real. September’s growth and loss of innocence is so painful and so wonderful. I felt so much sympathy for Lye, left all alone without instruction, or Saturday, who must always be forced to submit. And I laughed with A through L, the stalwart wyvern-library hybrid. But the most affecting of all turned out to be someone I least expected.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Joanna Newsom – Bridges and Balloons
With fate as malleable as clay”
That about says it. This song is so quirky and oddly beautiful. I think that it's about risking a horrible fate to go out and live and see glorious sights. And I think that “funny little thing” might be the perfect description for this book.