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

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne M. Volante Book Cover

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

4 Stars

September is bored at home. Her dad is fighting a far-off war and her mom is working long shifts at the factory. When the Green Wind comes along and offers to take her to fairyland, she jumps at the chance. But all is not well in fairyland. Good Queen Mallow has disappeared and The Marquess rules in her place. The Marquess has introduced laws and bureaucracy to the fey. It isn’t long before September finds herself on a quest that sets her at odds with The Marquess, and that is never a safe place to be.

What a delight! I was immediately thrown back to my favorite classic children’s fantasies–Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz… I’m sure there are more, but those are the big ones. Yet it was wholly its own story when it came to actual plot. There were nods to other books, but the characters and places that September encounters on her journey were unique and fun. There’s the loyal wyverary A-through-L (He’s a cross between a wyvern and a library. Yes, a library), Lye the soap golem, Calpurnia the velo wrangler, Saturday the marid, Iago the panther of storms, and many, many more. Each will live in my memory for a long time to come. I will think of them fondly and dream of the adventures we might have had if only a wind had offered to take me to fairyland when I was a child.

I really liked September and her loyal friends. September feels like a real little girl. She’s heartless sometimes, as the narrator points out, but she’s one of the most loyal and true characters you will ever meet. She literally sails to the end of the earth for her friends. She’s brave and resourceful and has a strong sense of right and wrong. She’s also afraid and tired and gives up hope a time or two, and just does the best she can, which is all that can ever be asked of anyone. A-through-L is a big sweetie. He is fierce in his love of September. He knows everything about anything that starts with a letter in the first bit of the alphabet. Saturday has had a hard life, but he finds it in himself to trust and love. Gleam comes in very late but she even won a place in my heart. Heck, while I’m at it, I have to mention how loyal and tireless the smoking jacket and jeweled key are as well.

I loved the whole feel of the book. It just seemed like I was reading a much older fairy tale, from the very classic wording of the title to the basic shape of September’s quest. Because all good quest stories do follow a pattern, as they should. They are conveying basic life truths, and truth always wears the same shape. The fun beginning, the first shadows, the revelation of trouble, the decision to do what one can against it, the darkness and aloneness of despair, and finally coming out the other side a more tried-and-tested and truer version of oneself. The path may be well-worn, but when it is well-told, as it is here, it will always call to us.

Author Catherynne M. Valente reads this herself, and I have to say that I was pretty indifferent to her narration. It could have been better but it could have been much worse. The one advantage the audio had for me was that when the narrator decided to address the audience, it bothered me less in an audiobook than it does in print. That device has started to bug me over the past couple of years but the audio made it easier to swallow.

Read this in either print or audio, and if you have a smallish person around you, read it with them. This deserves a place on every little reader’s bookshelf, and they will love you if you are the one who introduces it into their hearts.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Catherynne M. Valente on her website, her blog, and Twitter.

Read more reviews at Good Books and Good Wine, Consumed by Books, and The Book Rat.

If you like this, you might also like Instructions by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

Buy The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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  1. I really loved this book, and I actually like Valente's narration. I think this is one book that is suited to audio, for the reasons you mentioned.

    My only qualm with audiobooks is sometimes you miss out on wonderful artwork. Some publishers have been including PDF files with their digital downloads for books featuring illustrations and I wish this was one of them.

  2. I really loved this book.
    Here is a short story on the series;

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