Oct 19 2017

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente

The setup at the end of The Boy Who Lost Fairyland — intimations that all is not well in the balance between our world and Fairyland; and Something Must Be Done — could have set up the last book in the sequence as a heavy quest, not least because Catherynne M. Valente’s characters are growing up. Instead, and better, The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home is mostly a lark. The pleasures of a fast-paced, bouncy, good-hearted outing should not be underrated.

September, the protagonist of the series, starts the book as the newly crowned Queen of Fairyland. But not the undisputed Queen, for all of the previous rulers have been reassembled in the same room, and most of them would be more than happy to try their hand at it again. The royal Stoat of Arms appears to tell everyone the solution: a Cantankerous Derby, with each claimant to try to find the Heart of Fairyland and bring it to a particular location.

September is not at all sure she wants to be Queen. She is human, after all, and would like to go back to the mundane world at some point. On the other hand, many of the other potential rulers would be dreadful, so she joins in the Derby. The Stoat of Arms informs everyone of the rules, gets all of the participants lined up, and promptly sets about changing the rules.

What follows is a fun romp, all the way through. There are clever reversals, a duel fought with Latin conjugations, and real dangers to September and her friends. Complexities also intrude; the changelings from the previous book decide to participate in the race. It’s not that they mind having September as Queen, it’s just that she will eventually go back to the human world, and they think they would be better rulers anyway. It’s not enmity, just rivalry, though they would not hesitate to elbow September aside.

Nor are all the dangers obvious. One of September’s closest friends sustains a small injury during one of their escapades, it’s practically brushed off at the time. Only much later do they see that the small hurt is having much graver effects, lending their search for the Heart of Fairyland more urgency.

On the whole, though, it is wildness and wooliness all the way through.

“Curse all bicycles and little girls!” screeched the bird-king. “I ate the sun! I’ll do it again if I get peckish, just you watch!”
“Hush now, Hushnow [the bird-king’s name],” chuckled Blunderbuss [a combat wombat made of yarn], nosing at the cover of Detective Mushroom and the Case of the Peculiar Pooka to see if it seemed tasty. [Wombats read books by eating them.] Greenwich Mean Time [a testy security system] gave her a look so dark even the Ancient and Demented Raven Lord clammed up. The scrap-yarn wombat let Detective Mushroom lie. “You’re meant to referee, you daft parrot!” she yelled. “On you go!”
“Oh! Er. Yes. A duel. That’s a fancy word for wedding, is it? All right, all right, don’t get your feathers mussed.” He cleared his throat. “We have gathered here together to join the Headmistress [another past rule of Fairyland] and Queen September in holy matrimony…”
“No!” cried everyone together. (p. 123)

There’s three hundred pages of adventure, silliness, and a little bit of seriousness. The ending is splendid. And the part that isn’t an ending, that’s splendid, too.

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home is the fifth and final book in the series. It is seriously not a good place to start. Begin at the beginning.

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