by Catherynne M. Valente
Hardcover, 247 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Feiwel & Friends
Premise: Ganked from Goodreads:
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.
Oh, my golly graciousness. What in the… stumbling surprise… WHAT?! What. Is. This?!
Quotes cover the covers of this book, my favorite is by Peter S Beagle who I’ve already highlighted as the author of The Last Unicorn, “When I say tht this reminds me simultaneously of E. Nesbit, James Thurber, and Eva Ibbotson, I don’t mean to take anything away from its astonishing originality. The book is a charmer from the first page. I’ll be recommending this book to my own three children, the youngest of whom is forty-nine. Catherynne M. Valente is a find, at any age!”
Of course, “Winner of the Andre Norton Award” stands out as well as praise from Tamora Pierce, Holly Black & Neil Gaiman.
But the title speaks of entertaining meanderings, doesn’t it? And the artwork is unusual and not just fairyland cute, but also slightly frightening, don’t you think? I mean the dragon on the cover certainly doesn’t look like the Wyverary (cross between wyvern & library) at first glance, not to mention, the girl, September, seems to be hiding a very large key.
Before I was half way through, I decided this book would need various ratings. For starters, it looks as if it would be a fast, simple read. I prepared myself for skipping through fairyland in a 245 pg zip. I stumbled and finally sprawled flat on my face and crawled to the end b/c this book took much more than a few days to read. The page count is just as misleading as the rest of it.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to read quickly, I am saying it was impossible for me to read quickly. I have a secret passion for allegories, hidden meanings, references with depth – and I kept falling into thought unexpectedly, rather like September was pushed into a well.
Wait – before I dive into Spoilers, let me sum up…
I gave it a 3.5 for speed of progress and tension, because I had difficulty wanting to think as hard as I wanted to for progressing purposes. (Yes, I am aware that doesn’t make clear sense.) I was never deeply concerned for September. I never felt like I was her, either. That buffering created a bit of apathy, which would be where some readers might stay if the following didn’t grab you:
I really give it a 5.5 because it is one of those incredible books that involve so much author intent, there is almost a required dose of awe inspired naturally, and it seems quite possible that upon rereading it, the book will be entirely different.
Now, onward to Spoilerings!!
I had to take notes because there were so many deep pits of sudden meaning that caught me off guard, I lost track and forgot some of ‘em.
From my notes, then…
Pg 205 – “No one is chosen. Not ever. Not in the real world… you choose yourself. Just like you chose your path on the beach: to lose your heart is not a path for the faint and fainting.”
The Green Wind is purring in September’s lap as she contemplates quitting. He is really the spotted leopard who belonged to the former ruler, just as the wrench was once a needle wielded as a sword. Which is why Pandemonium is created of so much cloth and knitting.
This is such an incredible idea, that a person’s choice effects their future more than anything else, and even Greatness is part of that act of choosing one thing over another. September did not have any good choices on that beach referred to, and who knows that the sign was even really there? Or that she would find her heart by choosing to lose it?
Pg 194 – “We all just keep moving, September. We keep moving until we stop.”
The shark is describing why he can’t stop circling her ship, but he doesn’t eat her because it was his daughter September saved by giving up her shadow half. That sacrifice came up again and again. Because of being cut off from her shadow, September was able to talk with the half-people and discover who her other half really was, and her discovery did not include her shadow! That heartless part of her was gone, flitting around in the river. And the Marquess flips the concept around because great magic is really great wisdom and the Marquess uses it for her personal gain.
One of the greatest chapters took place in the Autumn wood, where everyone met their own death, even the Key. The sword, which was, uh, the key to victory, was only acquired by passing through death. And it changed depending on the one taking it up. The only way back to life, then, was through winter, to Mr. Map.
My favorite concept was Lye, who spoke more truth than anyone, and the soap bathes where she had to give of herself to clean travelers to Pandemonium. September remembered something she said later, which enabled her to build her ship:
“Even if you’ve taken off every stitch of clothing, you still have your secrets, your history, your true name. It’s hard to be really naked. You have to work hard at it. Just getting into a bath isn’t being naked, not really. It’s just showing skin. And foxes and bears have skin, too, so I shan’t be ashamed if they’re not!”
Lye’s baths were for washing up Courage, Wishes, & Luck. This is what she says about Courage:
“When you were born, your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish… but as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things… and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. So every once in a while, you have to scrub it up and get the works going again or else you’ll never be brave again.”
When she cleaned up September’s Luck, it was my turn to shudder,
“luck can be spent like money; and lost, like memory; and wasted, like a life… luck withered by conservative, tired, riskless living can be plumped up again – after all, it was only a bit thirsty for something to do.”
Ok, that part was cool. My shuddering came from this thought,
“No bath can replenish luck that has been… lost through overconfidence.”
Lol. That would be me in real life right now, a little low on luck having risked it a little too much too recently. Ugh. How did anyone know to put that so innocently in a bathtub?
Everything inanimate had purpose and character, including the completely inanimate shoe that got left behind. The Marquess’ shoes were hard to let go of, even though September knew they were either very bad, very, very bad or downright deadly. She didn’t want to go barefoot. How hard is it sometimes to let go of things we know are bad?!
The green jacket was forever amazing, forever trying hard to please and so happy to be of any kind of service. I think I grew to love that jacket as much as I loved A Through L. The Key, oh, man, the hard-working key that lingers in the video like it’s got such great purpose! It’s so huge-hearted, so persistent and unquitting, even facing it’s own death in the Autumn forest!! What a key!! Besides setting everything free, I might have missed the significance there. Then there’s a Lantern – it’s only 112 years old, so it’s been alive as long as September and so willing to try adventures.
Then we come to September’s dear friends, her real heart, Ell & Saturday. Golly-goodness, Ell is such a great character, the sort of friend anyone would want to have, wishing September the best at every turn and helping where he could help and cheering her on where he couldn’t and being patient when that was his only choice. I seriously love the Wyverary. And Saturday, my, my, my. He’s a quiet one in whom
“the sea is always roaring. Always at high tide.”
September happened to see his parents married in a breaking news real, because Marid’s live all at once, meeting up with their children quite unexpectedly.
And I don’t want to say any more because I was wonderfully surprised by the ending, every facet of the ending was perfect as the author turned it slowly to see it from all it’s different angles. There’s no expectations in this book, met or unmet, because it’s all a sudden fall into a deep well. Except that some things lost are not retrieved even when other lost things are, like the lonely shoe.
En fin... I LOVED this book. So much.
WHO WROTE THIS?!
Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and camphor wilds of Japan.
She currently lives in Maine with her partner, two dogs, and three cats, having drifted back to America and the mythic frontier of the Midwest.