I almost thought I could write a somewhat nuanced review for a Cat Valente book, just this once. But after finishing the third Fairyland adventure, I find myself looking for words to match my feelings. Prepare for another not-too-eloquent but all-the-more-gushing love letter to Fairyland and September and a certain marid called Saturday.
Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2013
Hardcover: 248 pages
Series: Fairyland #3
My rating: 9/10
First sentence: Once upon a time, a girl named September told a great number of lies.
September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home, and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.
September is now 14 years old and trying very hard to be a grown-up. That means keeping her emotions in check when they try to run away with her, but it also means looking to the future. Knowing that her Persephone visa requires her to revisit Fairyland every year, she starts saving money from the odd jobs she does around the neighborhood. Her father is back from the war and while his leg still ails him, the little family seems much happier and well-rounded.
But September is like us voracious readers. She desperately wants to return to Fairyland and see her friends, Ell and Saturday. She spent all year missing them, keeping her secret, and preparing, as best she could, for the journey to Fairyland. But this summer, no Wind shows up to whisk her away. Summer goes by and not a Wyverary in sight. Of course, the one thing we can be sure of is that September does make it back to Fairyland and, after being officially named a Criminal and Revolutionary, goes straight to the Moon.
As anybody who follows my meandering reading life will know, I have the highest expectations for a Cat Valente book. I expect them to enchant me and touch me and deliver wisdom in the most beautiful language while telling a riveting tale of adventure and fun. Let’s get the fangirling out of the way first and then I’ll try and talk like a sensible human being about what is another phenomenal book by one of the best fantasy writers of our time.
I didn’t warm to The Girl Who Soared immediately, as I did to its two predecessors. Much like September, I found the real world bland and painful compared to the colorful Fairyland, and I longed to return there. In my opinion, it took entirely too long to get to Fairyland and – especially – to find Ell and Saturday again. September is a heroine who can very well go adventuring by herself. She doesn’t need a wyverary or a marid to survive the fairie’s jokes or the Blue Winds’ cruel words. But I need them! I hadn’t realised just how attached I had grown to A-Through-L and Saturday, but passing almost the entire first half of the book without them was torture.
September does find her friends again, eventually, and where else would Ell be found than in a library…
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 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!
Once I got Ell back, I was immediately happier – if a little worried about the curse that has been put on him. But it was the reunion with Saturday that really broke me. “All the feels” does not begin to cut it. The author has slyly built up emotion over the course of these three books, and I thought I was clever enough to catch her doing it, to anticipate her next move. But I didn’t expect certain things to hit me as hard as they did. I have to be very vague about this or else I’ll ruin your reading pleasure. But trust me, if you think the first half of The Girl Who Soared is a bit slow, keep reading. It pays off a thousandfold by the end. I definitely cried a tear or two.
We have come to know that mixing mythology and original ideas is one of the author’s specialties and she continues to do it rather well. Be it a moon-Yeti, a whelk that is also a city, a taxicrab (check out Ana Juan’s gorgeous illustration below) or two Lunaticks, one gets the sense that these strange creatures are somehow old friends that we’ve met in fairytales and mythology books and fantasy movies from the 80s. Yet at the same time, their strangeness adds another layer to Valente’s version of Fairlyand.
And it is this brilliant, coy kind of world-building that makes it so hard for me to let go at the end of every book. We readers understand how it works. A year passes in our world, September goes to Fairyland, comes back, waits another year for her next trip. This was hard enough to bear in the first two books. There was never enough time in Fairyland to spend with her friends, without having to save the world or staging a coup or fixing her own mistakes. This time around, the ending was particularly shattering, and I honestly don’t know if the book hangover I’m feeling will go away until the next volume is out.
And now has come the time to confess that I lied. As hard as I try, I cannot form a rational sentence or start a sensible discussion about Valente’s books. They are too close to my heart to think about like an adult. So the gushing and fangirling and undiluted love is all you’re going to get.
THE GOOD: Plot-twists galore, heartbreaking reunions with well-loved characters, beautiful prose and a world full of colorful and fantastic creatures.
THE BAD: A sluggish and slightly episodic beginning.
THE VERDICT: Just read all the Fairyland books, will you?
MY RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection!
- 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
- All Children Are Heartless (slate.com)
- The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, by Catherynne M. Valente (nverarity.livejournal.com)
- The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland (spoilersbeware.com) –> almost spoiler-free 😉