I realise that this review should have been written a long time ago, since the fifth and final book of the series came out earlier this month. But since so many of my friends still had not heard of these books until I kept waxing lyrical about them, I like to think that there is still a point to publishing this post. (To be perfectly truthful, the main reason for the delay is that I had only read the book two days ago.)
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland is the third book in Catherynne M. Valente’s latest series. It possesses all the characteristics of her works, complete with a subversive narrator, profound prose and an eclectic mix of characters and creatures. If you found the lush narrative of The Night Circus intoxicating, then this series will prove to be an immense delight. In fact, Valente’s detailed descriptions are even denser. In this particular book, her naming conventions are as witty as ever, with new locations such as the Stationery Circus (a play on the archetypal ‘travelling’ circus), where the performers are made entirely from love letters and birthday invitations. By now, I have begun to actively look for double entendres, literary allusions and satirical jokes beneath every name and statement.
Some of my favourite examples are in the first book; the protagonist hears about other children Stumbling into Fairyland through armoires (Narnia) and tornadoes (The Wizard of Oz), and dreams about having buttered cogs for tea (in Alice in Wonderland, the movement of the Hatter’s watch is buttered). The stories are allusive treasure troves for adults and seasoned readers, but younger audiences will also be enchanted by the bizarre, thought-provoking world and storylines. However, I did occasionally find the plot of The Girl Who Soared rather slow because of the heavy, meticulous descriptions, but if exquisite accounts of Valente’s unique Fairyland appeal to you, then you would not necessarily consider this a negative trait.
This instalment focuses on the universal concepts of ‘fate’ and ‘growing up’, and Valente demonstrates an incredible talent for exploring these timeworn ideas in a refreshing and eloquent manner. After glimpsing a shocking character at the end of the first book, the protagonist is still confused and unsure of how to approach her future. If she has a fate, can she also have free will? Can she choose anything? Was she ever able to choose? Her frustrations are complicated by her friend, an ocean djinni, for whom time is more akin to a circle than a straight line, and who often encounters his past and future selves. In his case, it seems that his future is already set in stone. But if he had to make decisions to reach that future, then do those decisions count as choices?
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two is another deceptively complex, whirlwind adventure and will not disappoint fans of the first two books.
Favourite quote: “The whole point of growing up is to get big enough to hold the world you want inside you. But it takes a long time, and you really must eat your vegetables, and most often you have to make the world you want out of yourself.”
To buy the book, click here. This post was not sponsored.
All illustrations courtesy of Ana Juan.