nowReading: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

The time has finally come. A journey of a few years, which began with me picking up a magazine lying around in the bathroom, has come to a close. Well, a rest stop, at least. I’ve finished reading The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There.

(Those wondering what in the world I’m babbling about will find the answer here and here, but the short version is this book’s title caught me by surprise, roped me in, and forced me to sit down and read.)

As I do with most of my reviews, I want to get the bad out of the way before I focus on the good. What can I say? I like to end on a high note. To make a long story short, which is to do absolutely no justice to the complexity that comes from reading a novel, the book didn’t quite live up to the hype I created upon seeing its title. It reads almost like a first draft; lots of lists, lots of descriptions, things are a little sloppy. Characters will drop everything they’re doing and give their entire species’ life story, often times for no apparent reason. Other times, important things happening directly to our main character, September, are glossed over in a sentence or two. Everything is more or less there, but some things feel like they’re in the wrong order, or given the wrong priority. There were also a few typos, and things appearing out of nowhere that probably should’ve been mentioned sooner than they happen.

Another issue I had was in how convenient certain things were. It was like September was never in any sort of danger or peril—a magical person or item would always bail her out at the last second. The real danger of the story, and one that threatens all of Fairyland, isn’t made present until over halfway through the book. In the end it becomes clear why this was intentional, but I’m not convinced it was always justified.

This leads to the main issue I had with it: The first half to two-thirds of the story are a little boring. It reads like a history of Fairyland and Fairyland-Below, but not so much like a story about a girl who has just been spirited away to the underworld of a fantasy dreamscape.

When it does finally pick up, it’s relentless! I couldn’t put it down, I read the last third or so of the book in two sittings, stopping only to sleep. That last bit is as wonderful and magical and heartwrenching as the majority of the first book was.

This leads me to my last comment: It’s worth it, and not just for the third act. Even when giving off random lists or colorful descriptions of things that don’t really matter, there’s so much heart and spirit in the writing. Characters’ histories are interesting and wonderful, even if they’re not immediately important to the story. I wonder if this would have been better as a novella, and if it were accompanied by an actual history book regarding Fairyland, I would pick that up in a heartbeat. But again, to make a long story short: Even when it’s bad, it’s good.

I also found a lot of joy in reading the book’s two afterwords, and, if I might be so bold (and I might; this is my blog and I’ll do what I want!) I would say they are as important to aspiring writers as Stephen King’s On Writing and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. They’re not as much about the how of writing but do a fantastic job detailing the why, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re required reading for anyone who takes writing seriously.

On the whole, it’s a good book, even if it could’ve used a little more polish.

On to the next one!

nowReading: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

I first mentioned this book in a post I wrote about good titles. To summarize the relevance: In the back of some magazine or another, I found a review for a book called The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. It’s not unusual for me to be captured by a good story, but just by the title? That was new to me. I learned this book was a sequel to a book with an equally captivating title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. The story could be about anything, it could take me anywhere. I had to pick it up.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and I suppose the same should be said for its title, no matter how magical, captivating, awe-inspiring. Fortunately, from the first page, the story is as captivating as its title. Nearly every line is full of magic and wit, nearly every scene is crafted as a vehicle to propel the story forward. This is one of the most well-written books I’ve ever read.

It isn’t without its flaws. September, our twelve-year-old heroine, doesn’t sound like a twelve-year-old girl from World War II-era Nebraska. She sounds like a young woman from England, to be honest. Well-read or not, she seems much older than she actually is, except for her naivety. This is a small caveat, and one that is easily overlooked.

I was slightly disappointed by the near irrelevance of the title I fell head-over-heels for. After several chapters of pure magic and heart, it’s a little disappointing to find that the titular ship of her own making takes all of a paragraph to make, and isn’t really a ship at all. The circumnavigating also takes only a few pages, and compared to the events before and after it, comes across a little threadbare. However, this is also easily overlooked, as it almost seems like a joke played by the author; the same kind of trickery the inhabitants of Fairyland often pull on September.

I found the cast wonderful. September is likable without being overtly good, almost inhumanly flawless, as some heroes and heroines are. A-Through-L is a fantastic companion, and even meek Saturday, who is barely present, plays a large enough role to stand out. Some characters are also found where you wouldn’t expect them. Sometimes they’re inanimate objects, and not even magical ones. A certain green sweater plays a prominent role in the book, despite September’s inability to interact with it in any traditional way.

Perhaps my favorite character, though, is The Marquess. She’s this book’s Queen of Narnia, or Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts. The Marquess is, however, far more interesting. She’s frightening but oddly charming, and where Catherynne M. Valente could’ve given us a carbon-copy “pure evil” villain, she instead crafts a character who is human, tragic, and more deserving of this story.

At its heart, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a children’s story, and the kind we need more of. It’s important for children to grow up seeing the world not in black and white, but shades of gray; not as good and evil, but as different viewpoints. This isn’t to say that nobody is ever right or wrong, just that right and wrong sometimes take an adventure to come to. Valente treads a path set before her by the likes of Ursula Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and Hayao Miyazaki, but still carves out her own place, her own reason for being in it. (While I’m here, I’ll mention that this book would make a fantastic Studio Ghibli film.)

I had so much fun reading this. Books like this are what made me want to write in the first place: A wonderful, magical story from the first page to the last, and beyond the back cover.