Tuesday, May 17, 2011

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

I really wish I'd had more time for blogging lately, but between my own class, and taking on a friend's class for the rest of the quarter, as she has a gorgeous new baby -- well, time is a precious commodity. I hope to be blogging more soon; and I do have a couple more reviews to get out this week.

One thing I'm pleased about: I've learned that I'm more productive when I take time for pleasure reading throughout the quarter, rather than as a vacation. Learning that meant that I read Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making two weeks ago, when it was briefly offered as a free download from the publisher's website. Last week, I rushed out in the middle of a very busy Wednesday, just so that I could buy it in print.

I'm already reading it through a second time. Some day, I need to post about that: how my new reading behavior involves reading the same books several times in succession. I'm not sure why, though stress and lack of time probably has something to do with it.

I haven't read any of Valente's novels before, though Palimpsest is on my to-read list, and will be bumped up now; and I even have a copy from my Hugo Voter's Packet conveniently available. What I loved about Fairyland; what made me want to take the book to bed with me for reasons entirely separate from the marvelous portrayal of feminine ingenuity and strength, was how much it reminded me of the Oz books, both those by L. Frank Baum and by Ruth Plumly Thomson. I haven't had a chance to read about Valente's own history with the Oz books; but Fairyland is clearly a descendant of them: you travel there by wind, you must pass through a perilous sea (instead of a deadly desert), and there is an established society, with a ruling monarch. But it wasn't those things that made me seek out every Oz book I could lay my hands on when I was growing up: it was the delightful weirdness of them, and the Ozian inhabitants. As soon as Dorothy, or Betsy Bobbin, or Trot, or whomever sets out to explore, for whatever reason, they're sure to encounter people who are paper dolls, or sentient rabbits, or living pastries; or whatever else the author could dream up. I wish I had time to write about the oddity of the politics in Oz: I don't tonight. I can barely articulate what it is that made me love the series so much, except that I found it absolutely believable, as a child, that all these strange kingdoms would exist, and give rise to the political squabbling that more often than not, drives the main plots of the novels.

Valente reinvents and reinvigorates that same odd and whimsical imaginative voice in this novel, and to better effect than Baum or Thomson. As I've read the columns by Mari Ness on the Oz books, over at Tor.com; I've been rather dismayed to realize what I was reading. Ozma, for all that she started out in the series as a boy, and should have been the basis for a wonderfully queer existence, doesn't live up. Fairyland, however, lives up in spades.

There are lots of reasons for buying this book: because you like coming of age stories, stories about strong female characters; stories featuring creative interpretations of what dryads can be -- but for me, what dominated even beyond all those features was how much it felt like reading an Oz book -- but one that had been written for me, and for the 21st century today.


  1. This was pretty exactly my reaction! (Also, I followed you over here from your post on Cat's blog, making me the best kind of internet creeper, I hope?) Mind if I link you from my book blog?

  2. Absolutely! Welcome! And I'm looking forward to catching up on your blog, as soon as I can get ou from under my current deadline.