Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Catherynne M. Valente”

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #34: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a wonderful little book with a big name.  It’s a modern fairytale/fantasy hybrid about a girl named September who is whisked away from her home by a leopard and deposited in fairyland.  There, September tries to abide by the leopard’s warnings, help the friends she meets along the way, and deal with the difficult Marquess of fairyland who has replaced the good and gentle lost queen.  I was delighted by the characters, especially the Wyverary (half Wyvern/half library) called A Through L.  Ell, as September calls him, has his wings chained by order of the Marquess, but he helps September as best he can and becomes her companion.  The story plays a lot with the tropes of fantasy stories, but manages to be unique and interesting at the same time.  The edition I read also had lovely illustrations that added to the story.  It’s not all light-hearted fun, though; there are some dark moments here.  My only minor quibble was that the “twist” at the end was a touch predictable, but it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the book.  Reading it was an enjoyable experience, and I look forward to the sequel.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #90: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

September is twelve, and lives in Omaha. Her father went away to war, and her mother works in a factory. One evening, when she is doing the dishes, the Green Wind shows up at her kitchen window on a flying leopard and invites her to come along on adventures to Fairyland. But while Fairyland is a delightful and magical place (naturally), all is not fun and games. The former queen, Mallow, has been replaced by the capricious Marquess, a girl not much older than September.

While on a mission to try to retrieve a very special spoon from the Marquess for some nice witches who assisted her along the way, September is sent on a quest to the woods of Autumn. If she doesn’t fetch a very precious artifact for the Marquess and return in a week, the Marquess will hurt not only September’s new friends and companions, the Wyverary (a wyvern whose father was a library) and the boy Saturday, but generally make the inhabitants of Fairyland suffer.

So September has no choice but to go off questing. During her adventures in Fairyland, she meets a whole host of interesting creatures (like the aforementioned witches, gnomes, a soap golem and more), she sacrifices her shadow to save a child, she faces her Death, very valiantly tries to avoid eating Fairy food, and learns all manner of important and significant lessons. Will she manage to find Queen Mallow’s sword before The Marquess’ time limit runs out? What will happen to her and her friends if she fails?

Clearly inspired by Victorian children’s stories like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan, this book is a wonderful story, which never talks down to kids, and makes me wish I had children of my own to read it to. Having read Valente’s Deathless before this, I knew that she had a wonderful way with words, but the brilliant way she constructs the story in The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (surely the longest children’s book title out there) took my breath away.

September is a great protagonist, impulsive and headstrong like 12-year-olds should be, and described as quite heartless (as children’s hearts grow as they age) but also brave and loyal and affectionate. She’s intelligent and knows quite a bit about how things must happen in stories, having read many of them herself. Her companions are also great, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series, the second of which was published in hardback earlier this month.

Cross posted on my blog.

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #24: Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente

Target: Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest

Profile: Fantasy, Weird Fiction

I know just enough about H.P. Lovecraft to say four things and get three of them wrong.  It’s not that I don’t like the author, or the genre he helped shape, rather that the critiques of his work are such that a literary dilettante (me) will find them somewhat difficult to get at.  Of his works, I probably enjoyed his “Dreamlands” sequence most of all, and it was those stories that popped into my head while reading Palimpsest, though the resemblance is passing at best.  Valente’s novel is almost painfully postmodern, built out of rambling streams of consciousness and suffused with mysterious and nonsensical imagery.  But it is these modes of writing that best capture dreaming, and the world she describes, while garish and gaudy, draws its inspirations from Lovecraft’s Celephaïs and Baharna.

Read the rest of the review…

Fofo’s blog moved!  Check out the new website – Deconstructive Criticism

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #20: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Target: Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Profile: Children’s Literature, Fantasy

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland is, quite simply, delightful.  It is a charming fantasy romp that successfully blends the darkness of traditional Faerie stories with the bright and airy fantasy of a child’s adventure.  Valente successfully recaptures the illusive wonderment of Narnia, strips it of its preachy messages and returns it to the reader, bursting with clever thoughts and language.  The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland is a perfect modern successor to the fantasies of Lewis Carol, C.S. Lewis and L. Frank Baum.

The story’s protagonist is September, a young girl from Nebraska who is spirited away to Fairyland.  Unfortunately, Fairyland is currently under the rule of the Marquess, who vanquished the old queen and imposed a series of bureaucratic laws on the normally fun-loving citizens.  Fairyland does continue to operate, but everything is just a little bit off.  September is stopped by a customs gnome at the border, and every creature capable of flight has had their wings bound in iron chains.

Read the rest of the review…

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #39: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Dudes, it’s been waaay too long since I read this book. This review is not going to be my best ever. (I am SO BEHIND in my reviews. For instance, this is my 39th review, but I am currently reading my 46th and 47th books. I’m sure this is a problem a lot of you are having as well. Please take this opportunity to whine in my comments. I will not mind.)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (longest title EVER, so good thing it’s so adorable) came to me very highly recommended from several sources, so I was extremely excited to read it. I even bought myself a shiny hardcover copy. I’m happy to say I enjoyed it very much, although it wasn’t as great as I was hoping it would be.

TGWCFiaSoHWM (!) is about a little girl called September who is spirited away to Fairyland one day for an adventure. She traverses Fairyland with an assortment of magical creatures and beasts, including her very own Wyverary (his mother was a Wyvern, and his father a library). She also encounters a woman made of soap, a town made of cloth, a herd of wild bicycles, and a race of half-people that I’m frankly at a loss to explain. Sure there’s an “evil queen” figure propelling her into all sorts of scrapes, and little whiffs of destiny here and there, but ultimately, it’s September herself who charts her own course around Fairyland and comes out the other side.

TGWCFiaSoHWM is charming and whimsical, and extremely imaginative, but for most of the book, it is a little light on character development. Valente packs so much imagination into her world-building that it’s breathtaking, and her sentences are frankly magical, but she spends far less time on the creations that populate this fantastical universe she’s created. For that reason, until the end of the book, reading TGWCFiaSoHWM felt like a bit of a shallow experience. All frosting, no cake. And other such metaphors.

And then the ending happened.

Until I read the ending, I was all set and ready to give the book three stars. And then the ending kind of knocked me on my ass. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that all the emotion and character depth that was missing throughout most of the book was packed into its last hurrah. The story of The Marquess was devastatingly sad and horrible in the best way possible. It made me rethink the whole rest of the book. I actually think this book would have been much oomphier with The Marquess as the main character, or with her story as a framing device or something. Something to let you know that September isn’t the real show here, that her journey into Fairyland signifies something more important when seen through the lens of The Marquess’s story at the end of the book.

But then again, this isn’t my story, it’s Valente’s, and her heroine is September. Anyway, the ending was awesome even though I think she could have worked it into the rest of the story somehow, so I’m giving this like 3.75 stars, but I’ll round up to 4 just because I’m feeling magnanimous.

[Cross-posted to Goodreads.]

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #21: Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Marya Morevna is the fourth youngest and fourth prettiest daughter, and spends her childhood in Revolutionary Russia. In turn she sees three different birds turn into men and take her sisters away as wives. She expects the same for herself, but when her husband finally does show up, he is Koschei the Deathless. He takes her away in a car that turns into a horse at night, and feeds her and clothes her and nurses her when she gets ill, to his castle in Buyan. Yet Marya Morevna discovers that despite what he’s told her, she is not Koschei’s first mortal bride, and there are challenges for a mortal girl wanting to marry the Tsar of Life. Koschei’s sister, Baba Yaga, sets her three tasks that she must complete, or become soup for the old witch’s stock pot. And if she does succeed in the tasks, how is she to hold Koschei’s interest and to convince him that she won’t be faithless to him like the endless Elenas and Vasilisas that came before her, now stuck in a factory, never aging, making yarn soldiers for his endless war with his brother, the Tsar of Death?

Deathless is one of the strangest books I think I’ve ever read. It takes a number of themes, characters and creatures from Russian fairy tales and weaves them into a strange mix of romantic fairy tale re-imagining, feminist treatise and history lesson. Marya Morevna’s relationship with Koschei is both a romance and a power struggle, set against the backdrop of Russia and later the Soviet Union in the first half of the 20th Century. I loved the fairy tale aspects of it, although readers must be warned that this is NOT a young adult book, unlike so many of the other fairy tale retellings I’ve come across. This book is definitely meant for grown ups (and most teenagers would probably find it rather confusing and boring).

Valente has a marvellous grasp of language, and frequently describes things poetically, without the book becoming twee and saccharine (it’s often very dark and bloody things that are lyrically depicted). The first part of the book is magical and strange, probably helped by the fact that I’m not really very familiar with Russian folklore, so every new aspect that was revealed was fascinating to me. The last third of the book, where it seems to me that Valente is using Marya Morevna to make some sort of feminist statement, didn’t really work as well for me, mainly because most of the characters stared acting in a way that seemed to go against the way that they’d first been established, and the whole story seemed to turn on its head, and not in a good way. The ending is very ambiguous, and I can see how some people might find it a bit off-putting. But the book is well worth reading, because the first two thirds are so excellent, and the book presents something so different from what you normally find in fantasy.

Originally posted on my blog:

Helena’s #CBR4 #1: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

A plucky young girl named September visits Fairyland, befriends a wyvern and djinn, confronts the hardhearted Marquess, and has adventures along the way.

Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a must read for fans of fantasy, beautiful prose and charming illustrations.

Click here for the full review.

She sounds like someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, which are the best sorts of people.

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