Revisiting Fairyland with September

So…we all know that I madly, madly love Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, right?  I mean, there was quite a bit of conversation on that subject in the comments section of my RIP launch post.  As per plan, I reread Fairyland 1 and Fairyland 2, for Readers Imbibing Peril and as preparation for the soon-to-be-released Fairyland 3…and it won’t surprise you at all that I madly, madly loved them!!

Girl Who Circumnavigated FairylandBook One, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, was my favorite book last year–and I read 182 books in 2012. The only serious competition was from Book Two, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There.  Both books follow the adventures of September, an ordinary girl from Omaha who is swept away to Fairyland.  She encounters wonderful and whimsical magic and makes dear friends–but this is not Baum’s terror-and-tension-free Land of Oz, and September needs courage and heart to survive very real dangers, and solve very real problems.

I already reviewed both books (here and here) the last time I read them, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much…and I’ll try not to just gush all over the place!

It’s very possible I loved these books more the second time through–which is really pretty amazing, considering.  But I feel like I know the characters even better now, picked up on some little nuances that probably went past me before, and loved the seeds planted in Fairyland 1 to suggest Fairyland 2 and (I think!) the ones in both books suggesting Fairyland 3.

Normally I refer to a book as a “fast read” as a good thing, and a slow book as a negative…but these were slow books in a GOOD way.  Especially in the first one, I found myself stopping practically every page to think “oh, that’s a clever line,” or “what an interesting insight,” or “that’s so TRUE.”  And there are few things I love more than seeing a book express something that I KNOW and FEEL but have never seen explained in quite that way before.

I just opened Fairyland 1 at random (to pages 114 and 115, if you’re curious) and found six different bits I love.  Really.  Lines that are clever or whimsical or touching or insightful or particularly well-phrased.

Fairyland 1 is particularly full of splendid little nuggets of thought or phrase, but Fairyland 2 brings a little more maturity, a little more wisdom.  Nothing too mature, of course!  But September begins to grow up, just a little, and the book reflects that.  It’s a beautifully drawn portrait of a girl beginning to grow towards adulthood–this is not Neverland, where no one ever ages, and even a girl fighting monsters in Fairyland can be prey to the same worries of growing up of everyone else.  She has fears about friends changing and feels often like the only person who doesn’t know her proper path.

Girl Who FellMaybe I love September because she seems to act the way people really would if they were whisked away to Fairyland.  Much as I love the classics, I want to shake Wendy for spending her time in Neverland darning socks, and I just don’t know what to do with Dorothy who wants only to go back to gray Kansas–or the Dorothy of later books who is never the least bit worried or concerned by anything.  September thinks about home, just enough, but she wants to revel in the magic of Fairyland–and when it goes bad, when there are challenges to be faced, she does it with a real understanding of the hazards and the fierce determination necessary to go forward anyway.

The book is very self-aware of its source material in a delightful way.  Little bits of classic novels are given nods here and there, in September’s magic shoes or her visit to a rather mad tea house.  And then there’s a piece where September visits a Questing Physickist, who begins discussing Object Quests, the Laws of Heroics, the Conservation of Princesses Law and E. K. T. (Everyone Knows That) Fields.  It’s brilliant.

Another aspect of the book that I love is the way everyone and everything is a meaningful character–I say “everything” because it applies even to September’s clothing!  Everyone has complexity and history, and seems to be carrying out their own lives that September just happens to be passing through.  I love that depth of characters and of the world.  And even the villains have their secret tragedies, and believe on some level that they are, in fact, the heroes.

I could gush and ramble on some more, about how much I love September’s fierceness and Saturday’s shyness and A-Through-L…well, his whole concept is brilliant, and about the wonderfulness of getting the shadows of characters in the second book to bring a whole different layer to them, or how creepy the Autumn Lands are and how heartbreakingly sad I find Mallow’s story, and how intrigued I am by little hints here and there that I hope will be explored in later books…but perhaps this review is long enough? 🙂

Suffice to say…I love this series.  I really, really, REALLY love this series.  I have the publishing date (October 1) for Fairyland 3 in my calendar, and I cannot WAIT to read The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two.

Author’s Site:

Buy them here:
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

17 thoughts on “Revisiting Fairyland with September

  1. I don’t recall where I saw the first book in this series, but I do remember feeling intrigued because I love all things fantasy and fairy tale. Unfortunately, I constantly find myself swamped with too many books to read, and so the title quickly left my head. Thanks for putting this set back on my radar. 🙂

  2. Yes, to all of this. So spot on! Everything that this author writes is meaningful and necessary to the story. I’ve got the second book waiting to be read. I loved the first and also read the short novel of the Girl Who Ruled Fairyland for a Day. On top of that they really are quite beautiful little books.
    BTW – 182 books – I feel like a total slacker!!
    Lynn 😀

    1. Oh, you should read the second one before the third one comes out! The second one takes us to some wonderful different parts of Fairyland, and does really interesting things exploring new sides of the characters.

      And re: the book count…I follow some bloggers who make ME feel like I don’t read much. 🙂 I guess we’re all at our own pace…

  3. I’m looking forward to the third book too! (Though, sadly, I won’t be able to pick it up when it’s released. But at least that gives me a chance to reread the others before I get this?) So glad to hear that you’ve enjoyed the books even more on this reread! ❤

    1. I think I dreamed about Fairyland 3 last night…the details have gone hazy, but I was having trouble finding it at the bookstore! This may be a sign of something… (impatience for the book, most likely!)

  4. My mother gave me the first book for Christmas the year it came out, and I still haven’t gotten to it. But oh, your descriptions and your obvious enthusiasm are making me wish, very sincerely, that I had time to sit and read the first two books right this very instant. Alas, I don’t. But I’m bumping them up my TBR list again, so they’ll stay just under the agreed-to-review contingent with the other three or five books I’m dying to get to.

  5. There’s a new one coming? That’ll explain why the older ones were on sale as ebooks not so long ago. They’re now sitting on my kindle, along with far too much other stuff, if I’m honest.

    I read Deathless a while back, and that was beautifully written but a bit humourless and relentless for may taste. I also tried The Melancholy of Mechagirl over the summer, and found she works much, much better for me in small doses. It’s really an excellent collection.

    Aren’t the Fairyland books kind of YA? It’s been suggested to me that they might be a good next-step. She’s phenomenal writer, but needs a bit of lightness to stop it all getting a bit too rich and indigestible, for me at least, so the YA bent might stop it all getting quite so earnest.

    1. They are considered YA, but they’re pretty much the definition of “cross age appeal.” The heroine is young, the adventures are YA appropriate, but the writing is gorgeous and the themes are universal. And there is quite a bit of lightness here, so if that’s what you need, *definitely* read these!

    2. The Fairyland books are quite different in tone from Deathless, if it helps. I found them to possess far more warmth and humour, even though the darkness does remain lurking underneath.

      And like Cheryl said, they’re pretty much the definition of “cross age appeal”. It’s a product of the way they’re written, really. If you’ve read Peter Pan, it’s a similar kind of dynamic between the events of the text and the way they’re narrated. (Many other classics will work for this comparison too because they’re written in a similar omniscient style, but of those I’ve read that’s the one I think of if asked to compare them.)

      They’re definitely light(er) than Deathless at any rate. That was probably one of the bleakest books I read the year I read that.

      1. Agreed–it’s very similar in feel and tone to Peter Pan especially (I love J. M. Barrie’s narrator) or other classics. Oz/L. Frank Baum also comes to mind, although more for the whimsical elements than the narrative voice.

  6. dianem57

    Seems like, for you, these books are a slow read that’s also a fast read because it sounds like they are hard for you to put down. 🙂

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