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Valente, Catherryne M. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. New York: Feiwel & Friends (forthcoming).

It's not the first time I've posted about Cat Valente's works in general or about Circumnavigated in particular, but I now have the happy satisfaction of being able to say that the book is finished and that I have read all of it. Even better, CMV announced several weeks ago that the rights to Fairyland and its sequel have been acquired for a print publication, so those (like me) who love print books, as well as those who don't like reading fiction online, or who have never heard of this book, will have the chance to hold it in their hands. Yay!

Some readers may know or realize that The Girl Who… is a pendant to Valente's 2009 novel Palimpsest: one of the narrators of that book, November, read and loved the book as a child, and later this year when Valente was in dire financial straits she began writing and posting the novel online, serialized, along with a donation button. So Circumnavigated was in a way meta-fictional at its very birth, and one of my favorite things about the novel, which is YA, is that it retains that metafictional spice throughout the narrative, largely in the voice of the narrator, whose compassion is infinite but whose emotions never get in the way of her assessments.

The story follows one September, a girl whose father has gone off to war and whose mother works long hours at the airplane factory and who is so bored by her life that her distress attracts the attention of the Green Wind, who spirits September off to Fairyland on a leopard, though since his visa status is contested he must leave her to enter alone, with the admonishment to beware the Marquess and not to eat any fairy food. September comes to realize that all is not well in Fairyland, and is conscripted half by choice and half by the Marquess' machinations into going on a quest to obtain the means to set it right, accompanied by her wyverary A-Through-L and a maenid named Saturday. (Full disclosure: Characters named after days of the week and months of the year are one of my favorite things ever. I'm not biased at all.)

It's a simple story, and we've all heard it before, so of course the delight comes equally from the details of how Valente tells about September's adventures and her vision of Fairyland (yes, this is another fairy story that I've read this year. I should just stop protesting). Though I am an unabashed Valente fan, with the exception of this book and Palimpsest I've only read her short fiction, which is wondrous and amazing partly due to her perfectly chosen words and fantastic language, and Circumnavigated has this trait in spades. It's not just the language, though, but what Valente describes using that language that gives this book its delicious aura both of period authenticity (it was purportedly written sometime between/during the world wars) and its absolutely contemporary uniqueness: movie theaters, hordes of wild bicycles, polyamorous marriages. In many fairy stories, Fairyland is a timeless otherworld, but I quite enjoy when authors write the two realms influencing each other, as Valente does here or as Seanan McGuire did in Rosemary and Rue.

September is the perfect protagonist both for herself and because Valente, a lapsed graduate student in Classics, is able to work in many allusions to classical Greek myths that resonate perfectly in tune with the story: like any proper epic, Circumnavigated has twenty-four chapters. (Disclaimer: the following is quoted and reworked from a July comment of mine in the fan community [ profile] onaleopard.) But honestly I think the coolest and possibly most unique thing is that September, the protagonist, heroine, hero, is explicitly a kouric figure: she is declared to be Ravished and thus able to enter Fairyland by the Persephone clause, and later eats actual pomegranate seeds. CMV mentioned in her commentary to Chapter 3 that she viewed portal fantasy as a katabasis (a descent to the Underworld), which is interesting, since of course one of the tropes of portal fantasy is that the land on the other side is in need of aid that only the protagonist can provide: but if the land on the other side is figuratively an underworld, it immediately situates Circumnavigated in the influence (or is it perhaps lineage?) of Hope Mirlees' Lud-in-the-Mist). In the Greek myths heroes went down to the Underworld to prove their worth and/or to fix something that wasn't right with the world above, their homes. September being a girl is in some ways perfectly consistent with portal fantasies, but that she is explicitly the one to save the realm, and that she is sent in quest of her mother's sword, and what she endures on her quest, is an interesting revision on the trope. And in some ways the Persephonic take on being a hero--that one's actions change one, that one cannot ever go back to the way things were before--is truer than the idea that adventures are just adventures, that one can go from being an adult King or Queen in the Lantern Waste back to being a child in the Blitz with no change of heart. In any event, a wonderful book.