Series Review: Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente


October 8, 2013 by Heidi


Title: Fairyland [Goodreads]
Author: Catherynne M. Valente [Website|Twitter]
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Published: Most recent installment (The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two) October 1st, 2013 by Feiwel and Friends
Format: Hardcover; 256 pages
Source: ARC from publisher.

Oh dear friends.  I have told you of my love for Catherynne M. Valente many times, but the time has long since past that I should sing the praises of her Fairyland series in particular.  I’ll admit it wasn’t love at first page for me and brave September, though as I close the final pages of the third installment I find myself desperately missing her company, as she misses Fiaryland and those friends within it, even before I leave it.  What started out a journey of a girl with no heart has become something so utterly fragile and tenuous–a girl on the brink of womanhood struggling desperately to control her young heart.

You’re going to tell me how to get into Fairyland,” she revised, “ because even though I am spoiled and you don’t like me, it’s a good bet I’ll stir some manner of consternation up there and kick things over and make a mess, because I’m a person and that means trouble and trouble means me.”

Oh yes, we are all people and that certainly means trouble.  Cat Valente’s Fairyland is a series for every fantasy lover, proudly masquerading about the children’s section.  Don’t be fooled by the adorable illustrations and its Victorian air, the Fairyland series is for the young and the old, for those who have lost their Ways, and for any who ever struggled with growing up.  Yes, Fairyland is certainly about some grand adventure–one can surmise this from the titles alone, but it is also an excercise in things never being quite what they seem or what one might expect.

There are Wyveraries and minotaurs, icey armor-clad puffins and tiny pookas.  The moon is something akin to the ocean, and one’s shadow has its own things to be getting about to doing.  Sometimes the villain is you, and sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to be a rabble-rouser.  Cat Valente has the most exquisite way of penning the most ridiculous and solemn of truths.  Truths you may never forget once having read them, because even though you never quite thought about it that way–yes, love is a Yeti.

I love September’s travels in Fairyland because they are not necessarily an escape from so much as an adventure to.  September, in her every day life, is neither unloved nor unburdened.  She is your average little Nebraskan girl in the times of WWI, who has a mother with a hand for machines and a father off fighting a war.  An average little girl who relates to us through time, because regardless of the setting, we have all felt awkward and uncertain in our own skin.

It is the most recent installment, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two that has utterly captured me.  While yes, I have had scads of fun trouncing around Fairyland-below and sailing around Fairyland’s shores with only one shoe, it is this September that I remember best.  The awkward 14-year-old struggling so hard to be the adult she thinks she ought to become without ever realizing that there is no strict manual for Adult.  Adult doesn’t mean you no longer feel those things you felt as a child–excitement, and embarrassment, and absolute uncertainty or sadness–and it certainly doesn’t meant no Fairyland.  September struggles so literally with the notion of her fate and what she will become that she begins to fear being cornered into the future she would choose for herself.  I will look every reader in the eyes now and dare them not to understand–even a little–what September goes through in this book.

Time may be the only magic–it heals and changes things and allows us to forget for long moments what it was like to be 12 or 13 or 14, but in Fairyland we can remember.  And perhaps dream a little too.  Time is the waiting game between visits, and the necessary element for one’s heart to creep back down from their throat after an uncertain ending of horror and delight.  I am so happy that September will have more time to spend in Fairyland, as it means we as readers will too.  But even more so I love that Cat Valente recognizes that while growing up is hard, and requires all sorts of new things, it does not in any way require one to stop living or loving or delighting in the world around them as they did when they were young.

Also, the woman has a keen understanding of libraries:

A silent Library is a sad Library. A Library without patrons on whom to pile books and tales and knowing and magazines full of up-to-the-minute politickal fashions and atlases and plays in pentameter! A Library should be full of exclamations! Shouts of delight and horror as the wonders of the world are discovered or the lies of the heavens are uncovered or the wild adventures of devil-knows-who sent romping out of the pages. A Library should be full of now-just-a-minutes and that-can’t-be-rights and scientifick folk running skelter to prove somebody wrong. It should positively vibrate with laughing at comedies and sobbing at tragedies, it should echo with gasps as decent ladies glimpse indecent things and indecent ladies stumble upon secret and scandalous decencies! A Library should not shush; it should roar!


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  1. I read the first book in the trilogy awhile back and I was – sadly – unimpressed. Okay, that isn’t the right word. I thought the book itself was fantastic, but I wasn’t INTO it, for some reason. I feel like I have a block against most MG books, sadly, though I know this is a trilogy I would have really LOVED when I was younger. *sigh* I’m determined to read a LOT more of Valente’s work, though, so this won’t be her last for me. I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Heidi! Wonderful review!(:

  2. I want to read these books SO MUCH but I wanted to wait until the series is completed. I hope that this is a trilogy and that it is completed because I walk by them at the library and just STARE. And sometimes I flip thru the pages. And I always wait. I feel like I’d really like them.

  3. i *really* need to start this series soon, and I really just need to experience Valente’s writing in general. I’m kind of ashamed I haven’t yet (darn middle grade label!), but I will be making efforts to rectify this lack very, very soon. It’s encouraging to also know that this series isn’t pure whimsy but actually contains important truths and questions. Lovely review, Heidi! I’m glad to finally be able to read your thoughts on this series.

  4. […] – “Valente’s writing is as lovely as ever” Bunbury In The Stacks – “has utterly captured me.” Book YA Review – “Each sentence is […]

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.