Valente's Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland...: sweet fairytale, shot through with salty tears -- magic!

Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, has done the world an enormous service by putting The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making , Catherynne M Valente's extraordinary, award-winning free web-novel, between covers. What's more, they've augmented it with Ana Juan's wonderful illustrations, one for every chapter.

Fairyland is a book that is both deeply in love with fairy tales and sharply critical of them: the story of September, a girl who flies from her dreary and sad life in Nebraska to Fairyland on the Green Wind. In Fairyland, she meets every sort of wonderful mythical beast (including a wyvern that's half library), eats the most wonderful and strange things, and has the most wonderful and extraordinary adventures and quests. And it really is wonderful: whimsical and lyrical and shot through with an imagination that simultaneously renders the tradition furniture of fairy tales fresh, and manages to make the author's own inventions seem as mythic as the first story told in the first cave in front of the first fire.

But Valente's fairytale broods and seethes, and it is not always such a nice place. For every velocipede herd thundering across the plain, ridden by a marvellous fairy in aviator's leathers and jodhpurs, there's a whipped blue water-djinn who bears the emotional scars of slavery. For every autumn kingdom filled with fiery sylvan alchemists, there is a political exile in the winter country, banished and sorrowing. For every brave sacrifice from September's companions, there's an abandoned soap golem that wishes the good queen would restore Fairyland to its glory.

And that's what makes Valente's work so truly fairytale fantastic: the sense that the magic sweetness is alloyed with a pinch of salty tears that makes it all so flavorful and complex, a wonder streaked with anxiety. So as September embarks on her quest to topple the evil Marquess who is bent on remaking Fairyland so that it is as dull and regimented as Omaha, Nebraska, we cheer her on, fear for her, and wonder, a little, if she might not be on the wrong side of the war.

Valente's lyrical fairytale is billed as a young adult novel, but like all the very best young adult novels, this is a book that can (and should be!) enjoyed by grown ups too.

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


  1. Thanks Cory, for another great review. I rely on you for new reading for myself and my daughters.

  2. The free web-novel is no longer up, now that there’s a print book in the offing :-(

    Anybody lucky enough to have gotten a copy, hang on to it! (and email it to me…)

  3. “… was originally available here in its entirety, the final act has been taken down in anticipation of the book being published …”

    But of course. The Moor has done his work, the Moor can leave …

  4. Oh gods,I’ve been searching for this book since I read it online years ago and forgot the title. Thank you so much!

  5. Aha! Thank you for this. I was just wondering a week or so ago when this was coming out :) I remember it being almost painfully delightful to read.

    I was shamefully douchey to the author when I discovered the book when it won its 2009 Nebula. The last chapters were ganked from the web before I’d finished reading. I would not, I said, have begun reading it, had I known the last pages of the book were to be virtually ripped out. I was the archetypical whiny entitled fanboy.

    The author in her reply was lovely to me. She even offered to email me a copy (I declined, having cooled down and realized how ghastly I’d been). She explained that the removal was against her wishes, but since she lacks Corey’s clout, it was the best she could negotiate with the publisher: she felt lucky to get away with so much more than just the first chapter, and only signing away her own rights to republish her work for a limited duration.

    I’m totally buying this book, and supporting this author. I *want* her to become one of the Coreys of this world! :) I want to read more of her. I want her to be able to work by crowdfunding and open publishing, without having to deface her own work by taking parts of it down.

  6. Oh hey – she has a contest on her blog, with some nice swag! :)

    Yeah, I know that by posting about it here, I’m shooting down any chance I might have had of winning it – but really: she’s worth it! I haven’t been this excited about an author since I discovered Gaiman, and he thinks she rocks, to :)

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