Thursday, October 10, 2013

Catherynne M. Valente
Feiwel & Friends
$16.99 hardcover, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.

My Review: Magic is real.

Hello? Are you all right down there? Nothing broke in the fall, did it?

Magic, as I was saying, is real. Magic, not the stupid majgicqk of the boring nonillion-ologies of million-paged forest-rapers about the Queen of the Orc's long-lost son's Qwest to Fynd the Hynd or whatever. That shit should be banned. Or very very heavily taxed.

Ahem. Trying to find polite again.

So yes, September is magic, and Fairyland is magic, and Valente is a sorceress whose incantation is this book. The real deal, laddies and gentlewomen, le pur sang, descended from the right hand of the lawrd (which always sounded vaguely naughty to me, but I'm incurably low-minded). This YA fantasy novel is what y'all who need magic should aim yourselves towards like lodestones to the pole. Look no further, this is it.

Seriously, should I call someone? This falling down while gasping is a smidge alarming.

September is Ravished from her mother and her life, goes on a quest to find a Spoon for a Witch, meets the Magical Helper and overcomes the Magical Foe, and in the process saves Fairyland, grows into a wise woman, and goes home for a nap. That's the plot. Basic government-issue story.

So why am I, YA-averse and phauntaisee-phobic, giving it five stars? Because. It's magic. The real deal. Every one of us begins life in a universe of unbounded possibility and slowly but surely submit ourselves to the chains and locks and gears of adulthood. Fairyland, that state of unbounded possibility, recedes from us as each nasty rule and wicked, spiteful decision made by or against us does its grim work.

We use our unique, indescribable, polymorphous magic tools to sever and close and shut off, just as September is gulled into thinking she must do to uncouple Fairyland from reality, from our world of machines and banks and school. We're taught that the painful and nasty process is necessary, will save us and everyone we love, is right and just and correct. So most of us mangle and chop away, thinking the pain is growing up and growing wise and becoming adult.

Some few of us, like September, are given a moment of magic, and see the process for what it really is: Death with slow rotting, oblivion enough to be bearable but shot through with the awareness of the loss we've been tricked into suffering at our own hand. And some fewer still retain, magically, access to that other and better world. They come and they go, leaving us trapped souls for just long enough to be noticeably changed on their return, if we're sharp and attentive. Which, to my utter shock (not), most of us do not.

Valente's work, in the main, is polished prose telling interesting stories. Her adult tales will repay your reading time, and even (for many who Don't Read Such Things) be a revelation of quality work taking place in fields far from the ordinary haunts of dull adults. Seek that out, do, and firmly squelch the lip-curling until one full book has passed before your eyes.

But here? This? This is magic. The real deal. Approach it slowly, with a heart open and a mind clear, and it will enfold you in its warmly feathered, hard-muscled wings, and bear you away to that place you cut off so long ago. March in with your expectations set on stun, your ideas loaded like rocks in a slingshot ready to let fly, and your experience will resemble that of the US Army in Afghanistan: What hit me? Ow! Stop that! Ow!

I speak from (happily changed) experience.

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