Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making


Rating:   9-tails

There’s a marvelous used bookstore in Nashville that could overwhelm you with the sheer volume of books, music, movies, and even legos if you didn’t know where “your” section is. On one particular day, I walked into McKay’s, made a beeline for the MG section, and scanned each and every title for something that inspired me to read. I had been listless. No books I had tickled my fancy for several weeks. It’s not often I don’t want to read. Even in Edinburgh during my masters, I read for fun, despite the required two books a week. So, I roamed the bookshelves until I landed on Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland for short), and I knew I had a winner.

I’m a sucker for fairies and faeries, whimsical folklore, and everything in between. In short, enchantment. Valente delivered just that in Fairyland, where September discovers a new world like only a child could—by invitation from a Green Wind and a Leopard.

September’s adventures are nothing short of bewitching and even a little terrifying if one were only a child and whisked away to a completely different world, where “all traffic travels widdershins” and “you may in no fashion cross the borders of the Worsted Wood, or you [could possibly perish].” She meets several people (Or are they fairies? Creatures?) and makes friends along the way that all contribute to her growth throughout the story. One thing is certain, September comes out of the story changed. While her character growth is obvious, she still maintains some of the aspects that we loved about her in the first place. Even if her childhood innocence is a little dimmer after what she experiences, she still approaches the world with wonderment, and that is something I love and admire.

Valente’s style reminds me of Victorian literature with a contemporary flair. From the way the sentences flow from one to another, and how the ideas are expressed, it’s clear she gave the story careful consideration. Her chapter titles and descriptions is a nice touch in that it recalls an older time when you were given a glimpse into what happens, ie. “Exeunt on a Leopard; In Which a Girl Named September Is Spirited Off by Means of a Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle.” While I love all of this, my one concern is that younger children will not understand everything that is happening. Which is why I would suggest a parent reading it with them, or at least being around to answer questions. However, if the child is anything like me, she or he might just skip it and move along because the novel is too good to set down. That’s the great thing about Fairyland. No matter how much or how little of the nuanced writing you understand, you can still enjoy the story.

Fairyland hastens you away on a Green Wind with September, giving you the chance to meet wyverns, witches, and spriggans. Valente’s writing enchants you and leaves you wanting to read the second installment in the series. 9 tails


Kelly Barnhill’s Iron Hearted Violet

13455485*Parts of this review appeared on the blog Taking the Waters, where I discuss the writing life and my adoration of 18th-century literature. It has been amended to fit my rating system, but otherwise, the sentiments are the same!

Rating:      9-tails

I like to give anecdotes for each book review, but I don’t remember finding this book. I can, though, say I got for $1, which is all you really need to know. On to the review!

In Iron Hearted Violet, Princess Violet and her best friend, a livery boy by the name of Demetrius, are in for a world of trouble after they decide to explore the castle. As with every adventure that two mischievous kids go on, mayhem and the end of the world are inevitable results. Violet, Demetrius, and an ancient dragon have to defeat the evil that awakens after they find a secret passage.

Iron Hearted Violet is one of the more lyrical MG books I’ve ever read. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the author is a poet, not that lyrical writing only comes from poets or that all poets are lyrical. Barnhill whisks you away into this world with sentences that flow together, like you’re floating down a lazy river at a waterpark. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the story and not notice the sun setting and that your eyes are straining to read the print in the dim light of dusk. With a novel that places a lot of emphasis on storytelling and stories being living beings, it only makes sense that the writing for Iron Hearted Violet would beat with a hypnotic rhythm to lull us into that part of our minds that devour books and tales.

The ending was quite different from other MG books in that there wasn’t a big resolution. It resolved the problem at hand, but threw in a twist that left things open. There was still a sense of life moving on, going forward to a new adventure. If you watched Psych and saw the ending, you’d see what I mean in visual form.

Another part of Iron Hearted Violet I liked was Demetrius. He’s the best friend everyone should have. I constantly found myself saying, “Oh Demetrius, you’re so cool!” And I don’t mean “cool” in the “I’m Danny Zucko sense,” but he was just…awesome. He was always there for Violet, recognizing her when no one else did, and believing in her. Who doesn’t want a best friend who’s there for you and takes your verbal beatings when you’re hurt? Obviously, don’t be mean and start yelling at people. But a friend who understands when you’re hurting is priceless. Demetrius was probably my favorite character. Violet was great, too, but I think what he brought to the other characters was deserving of applause.

This book did have its faults, and the most frustrating one for me was the overuse of “beloved” and “my darling.” I understand the point of it. It is polite for the society in which the characters live, but when I read it about every other page, I started to get annoyed. Anyway, it’s easy to slip into a habit and repeat yourself without knowing because we write in bursts. We don’t sit and write an entire novel at once. When repeating a sentence or phrase to foreshadow or for effect, it’s very easy to cross that line where it then becomes a hindrance to the story. That happened to me with Iron Hearted Violet, but I was able to just skip them, or let them pass with a roll of my eyes.

A moving tale that shows you how to live and love without patronizing the reader makes Iron Hearted Violet a must-read.  9 Tails