So many great fairy tales, fairy tale retellings, and fantasy books from 2013 … and too little time to read them! Heading into 2014 I am certain there will be many more to add to my list. I’ve included several here which, according to Goodreads, were some of the top reads for the year. Have you read any on the list – or maybe all of them?! Which were your favorites?
Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (by Catherynne Valente)
Catherynne Valente is a truly shining author, as The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland proves with each turn of the page. I can’t say that I’ve ever read anything like this book before. Valente’s creativity blows my mind – the places she goes with her characters, the images she conjures, the words she uses to work her spell.
This book is no quick and easy read – but that has nothing to do with its length, which is normal for a young adult book. It’s a book whose premise is undoubtedly attractive to children, but the story itself has such depth, such meat and heart, that’s it’s impossibly alluring for adults as well.
September is a “somewhat heartless” twelve-year-old girl who, when the Green Wind comes to her kitchen window in the form of a leopard and offers to accompany her to Fairyland, does not even bother waving goodbye to her mother. Her journey begins on the coast of Fairyland, where she must choose which direction to take. The path to lose her way, to lose her life, to lose her mind, or to lose her heart.
September meets with many adventures in Fairyland, some of them delightfully imaginative, some of them darkly troubling – all of them of a nature to keep your eyes pasted to the page, and all of them having the potential to make September’s heart grow just a little bit more. She becomes fast friends with a Wyvern who believes he is the son of a library. She makes the difficult and painful choice to part from her shadow in order to save someone’s life. She rides amidst a herd of wild bicycles and is sent by the child-like but formidable Marquess, ruler of Fairyland, to fetch a talisman.
‘There must be blood,’ the girl thought. ‘There must always be blood. The Green Wind said that, so it must be true. It will be all hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.’
Every page, every paragraph, every word of this book is placed with seamless intent, woven to spectacular advantage into a story that is so much bigger than it seems. It is truly a masterpiece.
Sometimes you know as you begin a book that you can sit back and relax because you are in expert hands. This was such a book; Valente is such an author.
For a free preview of this amazing book, go here.
- Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (sffbookreview.wordpress.com)
- Top Ten Tuesday (71): Sequels (pagesunbound.wordpress.com)
- Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (fyreflybooks.wordpress.com)
First of all, just let me say … I loved this book. That’s really all I need to say, although I’m betting you are going to want a few more details before you’re willing to take my word for it.
I’ll start by giving you what I call the “jacket flap” description. If you happen to have already read the actual jacket flap or back of the book, then just skip the next three paragraphs.
Rosalind is a princess, but she has a terrible, un-princess-like secret. (I’m struggling here to know whether I should let you in on the secret or not. As you’ll find out anyway by looking at the book cover art or even just by reading the first few paragraphs of the book, I guess I’ll tell you. If you’d rather not know, just skip to the next paragraph!). Rosalind was born beautiful in all but one respect – she has a dragon’s claw as her left ring finger, and has been forced by her mother to hide it, wearing gloves, all her life.
Rosalind also happens to be a part of a famous prophecy made by Merlin 600 years before her birth – a prophecy that promises to restore the throne to her banished royal family. Dragons plague her home, Wilde Island, and though she feels a fear and loathing of the beasts and their hunger for human flesh, Rosalind can’t deny that she also sees their beauty, and feels a strange link to them.
When a dragon comes and carries Rosalind off to its keep, she believes she is as good as dead. And though many hardships lie in wait for her and the ones she loves, she comes to view what she has always thought of as a curse in a different light – and it just may change the fate of her whole kingdom.
Ok, then – now that THAT part is over … why do I like this book so much? Isn’t it just another dragon book, just like the plethora of other dragon books on the market right now? Yes, sort of. But then again, not really. To me, anyway, there seemed to be two main differences that caught my attention and drew me in. Number one: The writing and character development. (Is that two reasons in one?? Maybe. Who cares.) The plot of this book flowed so wonderfully, and the writing style of the author was so originally her own, that – when coupled with the excitement of the story itself – I couldn’t seem to put the book down. I have a pretty late bedtime … and believe me, I stayed up with this book way past it.
So, yeah, the plot – awesome. The writing style – beautiful. The character development – completely believable. I have a peeve in young adult books, and it’s superficial characters. I’m always amazed at the books that make top seller lists. People can throw in a couple of quirky characteristics and suddenly their hero or heroine is supposed to have depth. Doesn’t work for me. Dragon’s Keep, however, had a main character (and indeed, all of its central characters) who had a wealth of traits, fears and qualities that made her unique and realistic. There was background – there was history – there were reasons she was the person she was.
Number two: The dragons. They are mean, and bitter, and hard-headed, and man-eating, and deadly, and tragic, and deep, and feeling, and passionate. Need I say more? I could. In short, they are what dragons are supposed to be. Not that I have anything against friendly, emotional, human-helping dragons. But I’ve seen too many of them. I loved that these dragons were different – that they were hard-core (does anyone use that phrase anymore? Well, I do).
Some books are exhausting to read. They feel like homework. And I’m one of those people who feel the need to finish something I’ve begun, even if it’s torture. It’s rare I stop a book that I’ve started. So you’ll believe me when I say I was hoping for a really good read – something that I wouldn’t have to work at, and that would grab me and draw me in whether I wanted it or not. That is exactly what Dragon’s Keep did.
When you begin to think about it, cats have played some crucial roles in literature, specifically sci-fi and fantasy. What is it that’s so alluring about a magical cat? A talking cat? Or even a goddess cat?
From ancient Egyptian times, when the Goddess Bastet (in the form of a cat) was worshipped, and even before, cats have always held a certain mystery and fascination for us humans. In medieval times, cats in general, and black cats specifically, were thought to be evil. Women who took them in to care for the poor mistreated or neglected animals were in turn labeled witches.
I myself love cats … I’ve owned probably over a hundred of them over the course of my life. And while my husband might argue with you as to whether I’m a witch or not … depending on the day … like any cat lover, I can tell you they are anything but evil. Spooky sometimes, yes. Spastic and quirky … yeah. Moody and uppity and picky – uh-huh. The one thing I know from my years of cat experiences is that, without a doubt, cats definitely have personality. And I suppose that’s why they so naturally fit into literature, whether as characters themselves, or as interesting sidekicks.
- The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
- Crookshanks in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
- Fritti Tailchaser in Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams
- Magicats! books (collection of cat stories) edited by Jack Dann
- The ThunderClan cats in the Warriors series by Erin Hunter
- Rhiow and the team of cat-wizards in the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane
- Gareth in Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander
- The cat with no name in Coraline by Neil Gaiman
- “The Cat” in The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce
- Thelma, Roger, James and Harriet in Catwings by Ursula Le Guin
- Goldeneyes in the Catmage Chronicles by Meryl Yourish