The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, as well as being rather a mouthful, is the most wonderful work of imagination. It’s about September, a twelve year old girl from Nebraska, who is ravished to Fairyland by the Green Wind and his flying cat, the Leopard of Little Breezes (also known as Imogen). Once in Fairyland, September discovers that Good Queen Mallow is missing, possibly dead, and that Fairyland is being ruled in her place by the evil Marquess, who has imposed a whole host of laws and regulations including banning the majority of winged (or non-winged) creatures from flying. She has also stolen a spoon from the witches Hello and Goodbye, so September agrees to find the Marquess and retrieve it for them. Her mission evolves as she meets more Fairyland creatures and is sent on a new quest by the Marquess herself to retrieve a sword from the Worsted Wood in exchange for the spoon.
It’s such a fun and twee book to read, and Catherynne M. Valente has included a whole host of truly fantastical creatures and settings. September befriends a Wyverary named A-Through-L (known as Ell for short), whose mother was a wyvern (similar to a dragon but with only two legs) and whose father was a library. He’s named A-Through-L because that’s the section of the encyclopaedia he was learning (he has two siblings, M-Through-S and T-Through-Z), and he hopes to expand his knowledge in preparation for meeting his great-grandfather, The Municipal Library. September also rescues and befriends a Marid called Saturday, a genie of the sea, who has many versions of himself living out different stages of his life simultaneously, and who can grant wishes when he’s defeated at wrestling. Then there’s Gleam, a lamp who became living once she reached one hundred years old, and who can write messages across the papery surface of her lantern. But it’s not just the characters themselves who are so enthralling. September also visits a city made entirely of cloth, and gets there by catching and riding a wild velocipede (an old-fashioned bicycle) during their seasonal migration across the plains.
Everything about this book is completely enchanting. There are so many weird and wonderful creatures, I don’t know how she has any imagination left to spare! The book itself is absolutely beautiful, and there’s a lovely illustration at the start of each chapter with a little summary breakdown of the events that will follow. It’s a complete joy to read, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next in the series. What’s most astonishing is that this book was written by way of a crowd-funding campaign, and had already won awards before it had been published in physical book form. The title of the story was mentioned as a childhood read by a character in one of Catherynne M. Valente’s other works, and the campaign and publication came off the back of it. This suggests that the plot of the book was perhaps written around the title, which makes sense as September’s circumnavigation of Fairyland in a ship of her own making doesn’t feature as largely in the book as I might expect, given the title. It wasn’t the most memorable aspect of the story for me at least, just because the plot’s so jam-packed with creatures and things and action, but everything about this book is a triumph. The story kept me engaged to the very end, and I was quite thrown by the twist/reveal, which I didn’t see coming at all. I have to say, the whole story felt very rounded and satisfying. I would actually really love to see it made into a film, assuming that it was done accurately and all the strange creatures were portrayed faithfully to their book descriptions. I suspect it’s the kind of thing that could turn out either really well or really terribly as a film, but it has all the potential for being brilliant, and there’s certainly enough material to work with.