Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente

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Girl-Who-Circumnavigated-Fairyland

September is a girl who long for adventure. When she is invited to Fairyland by a Green Wind and a Leopard, well, of course she accepts. (Mightn’t you?) But Fairyland is in turmoil, and it will take one twelve-year-old girl, a book-loving dragon, and a strange and almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish an evil Marquess and restore order. 

This book has quite a long title, so we’ll refer to it as TGWCFiaSoHOM. Have fun reading that throughout the whole review.

TGWCFiaSoHOM has been called many things: charming, glorious, enchanting. In some ways, that’s quite true; in other ways, which we’ll get to later, it’s quite wrong. We’ll get to how it’s good first.

The book has a rich and diverse array of characters and a wonderful world. Valente went all-out making Fairyland an interesting, strange, and  different place, and quite quirky in its own way. From entire cities knitted out of wool to Fairyland having to cope with modernisation, the world is a rich and fun one. It’s like being transported to a real place; like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it’s similar enough to our world, yet different enough from it, in the amounts to make it a place a reader would want to visit.

To the book’s credit, Fairyland is populated by an equally interesting array of characters, none quite the same as the other. A-Through-L is a wyvary, half-wyvern, half-library (so he says), Saturday is a Marid, and can grant any wish (as long as he’s defeated first), and the villain is one of the most sympathetic I’ve come across in fiction in a while. Almost everyone we meet is different and leaves an impression on us, and it’s these characters, really, who make the world an interesting one, and Valente spared no expense making them as real and as rich as she could.

Unfortunately, this care wasn’t put into  every character, and here we come to the book’s only real flaw – though it’s such a large flaw it has a deep impact on the quality of the story. The problem isn’t the writing, which is okay, or the ending, which doesn’t really resolve anything in favour of making way for a sequel instead. No, the biggest flaw of the book is September.

September is a flat character bordering on Mary Sue. Everybody likes her instantly, talks about her all the time, sings praises of her that make it clear sliced bread feels ashamed it doesn’t live up to her wonderful goodness, and anyone who doesn’t like her is bad and evil and how dare you not like this wonderful perfect person. It couldn’t be more clear September is intended as an audience stand-in: basically, designed to be a bland nobody everybody likes so that the reader can step into her shoes and pretend they’re the ones everyone is praising. This is pitiful, because a flat character like this simply doesn’t belong in a book so otherwise good. It’s like having a really health-conscious friend and then finding out they’e been hiding sweets all around the house and snacking on them when nobody’s looking, or finding out they smoke behind everybody’s back. If Valente had put just a fraction of the effort into September she put into all the other characters in this book, it would have been truly good; instead, I was left loving the few pages where September didn’t come up at all, automatically sympathising with the characters who, for a few glorious pages, put September in her place and told her she wasn’t very wonderful after all, and finding more interest in a sentient key than in September. September didn’t make an impression on me so much as merely leave a void where a good protagonist should have been, and no personality I can use to decide if I like her or not.

Some authors deliberately write these characters to make them easy to relate to. The thing is, a well-written character is always relatable, or other characters are. Writing a flat character is lazy, a cop-out; it’s the published equivalent of self-insert fan fiction. Everything, from September’s formulaic background to her utter lack of personality, make her severely disappointing when compared to the rest of the book’s cast. I became more and more disappointed with her as the book went on, and liked the book less and less as a result.

So how was TGWCFiaSoHOM as a whole? Good. I might even say quite good. Would I pick up the inevitable sequels? Here I find myself torn. I want to see A-Through-L again; I want to witness the Marquess’ character arc. I dread seeing September again. It’s not usual that I like one part of a book so much and so hate another part, but it’s true in this case, and I’m not sure how well my time would be spent reading the sequel as opposed to simply asking other people what happens.

Overall reading: 3.5/5

 

8 Responses

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  2. Sara Jayne

    I read this book a few months ago and gave it a 3/5 rating. I loved the setting/plot, but also found the characters lacking. I’ve decided not to read other books in the series.

    Reply
    • ARamone

      I found for the most part the characters were okay; the only thing that annoyed me about them was how much they all loved September, and September herself just annoyed the heck out of me. I might just read a bit of the second book to see how it is, and if September’s just as annoying as ever, I probably won’t read through.

      Reply
    • RLovatt

      Hey Candace,

      Just wanted to say thanks for following our blog, and I’m glad you like it. I’ve followed back!

      Rebecca

      Reply

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