The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home is the conclusion to Catherynne Valente’s Fairland series for middle grade readers. The first book was a revelation, and is the book that introduced me to Valente. I adored that book, loved it. I enjoyed the second and third books as well, though I don’t think they ever managed to really re-capture the magic in the first book. However the fourth book, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, was a huge disappointment. Still, even given that I’d been disappointed with The Boy Who Lost Fairyland I immediately pre-ordered this last book and hoped that the conclusion would recapture the magic of the first book. Sadly, I’ve been struggling with this book for three months now and I think I’m just done.
As one of my biggest issues with the book is that it was all over the place, I can’t come up with a better summary then the one from Goodreads. So here it is, blatantly stolen.
Quite by accident, September has been crowned as Queen of Fairyland – but she inherits a Kingdom in chaos. The magic of a Dodo’s egg has brought every King, Queen, or Marquess of Fairyland back to life, each with a fair and good claim on the throne, each with their own schemes and plots and horrible, hilarious, hungry histories. In order to make sense of it all, and to save their friend from a job she doesn’t want, A-Through-L and Saturday devise a Royal Race, a Monarckical Marathon, in which every outlandish would-be ruler of Fairyland will chase the Stoat of Arms across the whole of the nation – and the first to seize the poor beast will seize the crown. Caught up in the madness are the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the combat wombat Blunderbuss, the gramophone Scratch, the Green Wind, and September’s parents, who have crossed the universe to find their daughter…
I had a couple of issues with the book. The first is exemplified in the summary. Look at that cast of characters, there are so many. And each one is unique and quirky. It’s Fairyland, so you can’t just have talking animals you have to have talking stuffed animals, and the child of a wyvern and a library, or any number of other unusual combinations. I love A-Through-L, but he’s become just one more weird character in a book chock full of weird characters. I’m a big Oz fan, huge Oz fan, I love those books, and I can see Oz all over this series. However, Baum seemed to be willing to let some of his odder creations be one book characters, something Valente doesn’t want to do. If the character appeared somewhere in the previous books then by golly it’ll get a shot to show up here. This actually lessens the power of a character showing up at all, because you don’t really get to spend time with anyone.
The other issue I had is that I choked on the tweeness of the descriptions. I’ve said before that I love Valente’s way with words, and I do. However, sometimes she lets her pure enjoyment with shaping visuals get away from her and you end up with words jumbled together in ways that add nothing to the over all visual. It’s like an artist spending hours painting a pink and orange tree in a forest of rainbow trees. That one tree is going to get lost in the rest of the trees and you can’t even see the overall picture because you’re too overwhelmed by the colorful forest.
But my main issue with the book is that I think Valente started writing the later books for children and made them easier and simpler because she thought that’s how a children’s book should be. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making wasn’t really written for children, it was written as a companion novel to Palimpsest where it appeared as an imaginary novel. Valente wrote it for the fans of that novel and it kind of took off and became it’s own beast and she became a surprise children’s book author. I don’t want to say that she started dumbing her novels down, because I don’t think that’s quite it. But she stopped allowing the danger of Fairyland to be a real danger, and the books went from something quite powerful to a cute little story that have little emotional weight because there’s no real weight to anything.
I will say, the ending pulled the book from a one star disappointment. While there is little actual plot in the novel, Valente does have a way of wrapping things together in a nice bow and this ending is no different. It’s a natural conclusion to the series, and I quite liked it.
Overall, I’m just disappointed and sad. I still love the first book, and I will re-read it often. I don’t think I’ll continue to re-read the rest of September’s adventures in Fairyland.