Have you ever known someone who you should be best friends with? As in, on the surface, this person has everything in common with you? They like the same things, they read the same books, they listen to the same music. But for some reason, you just don’t mesh well together. Why is this? Because this seems to be the case with me and Catherynne Valente.
I began hearing about Valente sometime last year because of her book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Well, Fairyland! I thought. That sounds interesting. And eventually I read her book Deathless. It was good, but not great, and it made me wonder if I would actually like Fairyland. So I finally got the book from the library to read and I’m now wondering why it is so popular.
There is so much about this book that I should love. September is a twelve year old girl living in Nebraska who is taken into Fairyland. Once there, she is left on her own and begins a series of adventures that ultimately lead her into direct conflict with the current ruler of Fairyland. Along the way she makes friends with a wyvern (like a dragon but not quite) and a marid, as well as getting help from fairies, spriggans, panthers and various other sentient creatures. The story owes an obvious debt to old Victorian morality and fairy tales but has a healthy dose of modernness to it.
So why don’t I love this book? I really can’t say. It’s not the first time this has happened- I never could get into the Inkheart books by Cornelia Funke. Valente’s tone bothers me a bit, as it did with Deathless. She seems to patronize a bit and whether that’s intentional or not, I can’t tell. And everything seems so…precious. I don’t really know any other way to explain it. Half the time I’m trying to enjoy the story I just end up rolling my eyes. I also have a hard time connecting or caring about many of the characters.
There is a sequel recently published, also saddled with a horribly cumbersome title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. Will I read it? Probably. But I fear I’m just setting myself up for another disappointingly flat tale.