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


Catherynne M. Valente


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 20, 2011

he Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making is officially targeted at a younger audience, but it can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. It has an "Alice in Wonderland" flavor to it - the writing style is full of amusing word play and uses lots of Big Words. Like Alice in Wonderland, it is nicely illustrated. Also like Alice, it features a determined young heroine (named September) who ventures into a magic landscape where logic and physics are tossed aside for the sake of adventure and colorful characters.

I don't mean to imply that this book is a derivative of Alice in Wonderland. Valente has definitely created a brand new Fairyland from her own imagination. Every chapter features multiple clever ideas, rich with delightful characters and landscapes and magic. Combined with the carefully worded prose, it is clear that an impressive amount of thought was put into every paragraph. This is the first book of Valente's that I have read, and I am now eager to check out more of her works.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making is the story of September, a twelve year old girl living in Omaha, Nebraska, who is invited by the Green Wind to visit Fairyland. Since September is bored, she decides to go ride along with the Green Wind on his talking leopard. After some amusing confrontations with the bureaucrats at Fairyland border control, September finds herself admitted into a world where things are decidedly strange. September makes some fine friends, including a Wyvern named A-Thru-L (he was raised in library) and a blue-skinned djinn boy named Saturday

One thing I really loved about this book is the menace that radiates from various characters that September meets - Fairyland is not just magic and fun. It is ruled by a sinister and powerful Marquess, an evil ruler who oppresses her own kingdom, much as the White Witch oppressed Narnia. The Marquess is aided by powerful, scary big cats. She sends September on an impossible quest to retrieve a sword from a distant wood. September's journey into that wood was my favorite part of the book - it is a genuinely creepy and frightening place and September must show tremendous courage and resolution if she is to escape successfully. Death literally lurks nearby.

At one point, September is imprisoned on an island by a band of antique pots and pans. Her journey around Fairyland (in the ship of her own devising) also contains some moments of desperate peril. In another chapter she confronts a horde of pirates called Glashtyns who live under the sea. Even her first encounter in Fairyland with a band of witches, named Hello, Goodbye and Manythanks, seems a bit threatening.

There are memorable good times in Fairyland too - September rides along on a herd of migrating bicycles. A soap golem gives September a good scrubbing in a bathhouse in The House Without Warning.

The story is great. The writing is wonderful. The characters are terrific. This book overflows with imagination and clever ideas. I really liked and highly recommend it.