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.