Scientifick Fairies || The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland Review

Initial Thoughts: 

With a long title and each chapter having cutesy little summaries, you’re expecting a children’s book. But holy heck, things turned dark and twisty, and the writing is seamless and effortless and HOW DOES VALENTE DO IT, DAMMIT.


by Catherynne M. Valente
Square Fish, May 2011
Children’s Fantasy, Fairy Tales
Rated: 5 / 5 cookies

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.

I love this book. It’s very reminiscent to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but with less recitations and more descriptive play on words and characters and tropes. It does take a dark turn eventually, and if I hadn’t read two Valente books already, I might have been sucker-punched into the grim plotline later on. That said, I was still really surprised at the plot twist at the end, and enjoyed this book tremendously. I think that mostly had to do with the fact that Valente is a stellar writer and knew how to play with her words, to put it on paper and to run with it.

Which is why I’m throwing a bunch of quotes in here, because I swear, this is really the best way to describe how this book is written.

First off, let’s look at September.

“If I am special,” finished September, halfway between a whisper and a squeak. “In stories, when someone appears in a poof of green clouds and asks a girl to go away on an adventure, it’s because she’s special, because she’s smart and strong and can solve riddles and fight with swords and give really good speeches, and…I don’t know that I’m any of those things.”

September starts off as your run-of-the-mill girl on a mission: the Green Wind and Leopard of Little Breezes come calling, and almost immediately, she answers. She does have a bit of self-doubt, and she questions herself a few times within the story, but eventually September does come to her own, and I love that she’s got a precocious and curious kind of personality. She’s also the daughter of an engineer, which plays a huge role later in the story.

And if September wasn’t enough, the cast of characters she encounters bring a smile to my face every. Single. Time.

“We’re witches,” said Hello.

Manythanks pointed meaningfully at his hat.

“But witches do all kinds of spells–”

“That’s sorceresses,” corrected Goodbye.

“And magic–”

“That’s wizards,” sighed Hello.

“And they change people into things–”

“That’s thaumaturgists,” huffed Manythanks.

“And make people do things–”

“Enchantresses,” sneered Goodbye.

“And they do curses and hexes–”

Stregas,” hissed both sisters.

“And change into owls and cats–”

Brujas,” growled Manythanks.

“Well…what do witches do, then?”

The witches are pretty much what spurs September onward to her adventure, and she eventually encounters several other characters that either help her, hinder her, or give her more missions on top of missions. There’s a special spot in my heart for the Wyverary, and I love Saturday, a little timid boy who somehow quietly harbors all the power in the cosmos.

“Scientifick’ly speaking, a Fairy–what I am–is not much different’n a human. Your lot evolved from monkeys. We evolved…Fairies started out as frogs…being frogs was no kind of fun, so we went about and stole better bits–wings from dragonflies and faces from people and hearts from birds and horns from various goats and antelope-ish things and souls from ifrits and tails from cows–and we evolved over a million million minutes, just like you.”

“I…I don’t think that’s how evolution works…,” said September softly.

“Oh? Your name Charlie Darwin all sudden-true?”

“No, it’s just–”

“It’s Survival of Them Who’s Best at Nicking Things, girl!”

And I admit to laughing half the time. Either because somebody says something profound, or a character makes a side note that you can definitely take as a commentary for the real world. Again, kudos to Valente for this, because if child readers don’t pick these allusions and references up, adults certainly do!

I suppose you think you know what autumn looks like…The trees go all red and blazing orange and gold, and wood fires burn at night so that everything smells of crisp branches. The world rolls about delightedly in a heap of cider and candy and apples and pumpkins, and cold stars rush by through wispy, ragged clouds, past a moon like a bony knee…

Autumn in Fairyland is all of that, of course.

And just…the language alone makes me drool! It’s BEAUTIFUL I TELL YA.

The orange lantern bobbed in front of her, just over the pit. The lovely handwriting flowed over its face.

The Marquess said to look for a girl wearing beautiful black shoes. I’m sorry.

“And do what?” shrieked September.

Kill her.

The swords threw September down into the black.

She fell a long way.

And then seriously, again, the book does get grim. Turns out there’s more at stake than a simple adventure to retrieve a magic spoon. There’s more at stake than a Marquess charging a girl adventurer to retrieve a sword in a casket. Throughout the book, September starts to ask questions about the lack of actual fairies in Fairyland. She starts to see that there are problems within the realm of fairies, and instead of standing by, she steps into a darker world where the politics almost mirror that of reality.

At the end we even get a resolution, but there are still so many things I want to see in Fairyland. I’m kind of glad September’s adventures aren’t over yet!

5 out of 5 cookies! This was such a great children’s book, I’m even thinking about using it as part of my sixth grade imagination unit lesson plans!

Have you read this book? What did you think?


Maroc: Living in Days of Blood and Starlight

I will unabashedly admit that my entire Moroccan experience last June was most definitely inspired by Laini Taylor. Largely, by her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. Much like Prague had been (which I talked about extensively some years ago!). Once I read about Arabian sunsets and camel-rides in deserts, once I got a taste of what it felt like being in souks and medinas, once I started to question what kasbahs truly looked like (giant sandcastles, essentially), I knew Morocco was going to be a stop on my ever-large travel bucket list. But then again, this wasn’t a hard decision to make, since Laini Taylor ALWAYS gets me moving places with her beautiful, beautiful words. (I even SAY Morocco would be one of my next destinations!)

I am priestess of a sandcastle
in a land of dust and starlight.

Once I’d finished Days of Blood and Starlight, the second book in the trilogy, it was a done deal.

So when the opportunity arose, I took a tour group vacation to Morocco, and was actually stoked that my tour included many of the locations I fell in-book love with when I was reading Laini’s work.

But first, I wanted to go to the origin of why Morocco in the first place: Marrakesh.

It was hard to be glum in such a place. In some derbs, as the wending alleyways were called, the world seemed draped in carpets. In others, freshly dyed silks dripped scarlet and cobalt on the heads of passersby. Languages crowded the air like exotic birds: Arabic, French, the tribal tongues. Women chivvied children home to bed, and old men in tarboosh caps leaned together in doorways, smoking.

A trill of laughter, the scent of cinnamon and donkey and color, everywhere color.

Such was the city center of Marrakesh, Jemaa el-Fna. This is practically where Karou and Akiva meet for the first time in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and it’s certainly not the last. I loved the description of the medina, and I can very much visualize now the chaos of that moment in DoSaB, Akiva displaying his fire wings, and Karou jostling the people around her just to escape from the super-killer malak.

Karou made her way toward the Jemaa el-Fna, the square that was the city’s nerve center, a mad, teeming carnival of humanity: snake charmers and dancers, dusty barefoot boys, pickpockets, hapless tourists, and food stalls selling everything from orange juice to roasted sheep’s heads. On some errands, Karou couldn’t get back to the portal fast enough, but in Marrakesh she liked to linger and wander, sip mint tea, sketch, browse through the souks for pointy slippers and silver bracelets.

There were snake charmers and dancers and hapless tourists (hah). There were more than likely pickpockets (I was fortunate not to have encountered one), there were markets for everything (didn’t see any sheep’s heads…but there were certainly camels and donkeys…), and there was definitely a plethora of mint tea. Marrakesh was a fleeting stop in the grand scheme of the DoSaB trilogy, but it’s always referred to constantly within Blood and Starlight.

It takes some 70 pages before we actually get to Karou’s location, and in her cryptic email to Zuzana, she’s not very forthcoming to where she could be found. “Priestess of a sandcastle in a land of dust and starlight” were the only telling parts of her whereabouts. The best part was that Zuze would stop at nothing to find her best friend, and eventually she realizes where Karou actually is: Morocco. Specifically the southern part.

The kasbah was a castle built of earth, one of the hundreds that studded these southern reaches of Morocco, where they had baked in the sun for centuries. Once, they had been home to warrior clans and all their retinue. They were primeval fortresses, proud and red and tall, with crenellations like the hooked teeth of vipers, and arcane Berber patterns etched on the high, smooth walls.

In many of the kasbahs, small clutches of warriors’ descendants still eked out lives while time worked its ruin around them. But this place, when Karou found it, had been left to the storks and scorpions…

It was gorgeous: embellished with scrollwork iron window grilles and carved wood, jewel mosaics and soaring Moorish arches, jade-green roof tiles, and the white plaster lacework of long-dead craftsmen.

The kasbahs I went to were definitely breathtaking, and while most of the scenery described pertain to southern Morocco, there are hundreds of kasbahs littering the country, many are in ruin, while others with a few people still living within their walls.

Kasbahs did look extraordinarily like sandcastles. Too bad there were, like, fifty million of them scattered over hundreds of miles.

Now, as far as the description of the places went, a lot of it is in Karou and Zuze’s eyes. By the third book, much of the story takes place in the Otherworld, so Morocco (and Rome eventually) take a secondary seat to Eretz. But it’s great that we see a lot of Morocco in Zuzana’s eyes, especially when she manages to make her way to Ouarzazate after solving Karou’s message.

And then she came across a travel blog a French guy had written about his trek in the Atlas Mountains. It was only a couple of days old and mostly it was just landscape pictures and camel shadows and dusty children selling jewelry at the roadside…but then there was this one shot that caused Zuzana to set her teacup aside and sit up…it was the subtitle that got her.

Don’t tell the angel chasers, but they have some seriously big night birds down there.

A land of dust and starlight! Though I did not have a picture of starlight, since my camera cannot exactly take star pictures…you really have to experience it there yourself. It is magnificent.

“In real life, fool city folk never die in the desert and turn into bleached skeletons–”

“Or be crushed under the hooves of camels,” added Zuzana.

“I don’t think camels have hooves,” said Mik, sounding less certain.

“Well, whatever they have, I would kiss a camel right about now. We probably should have gotten some camels.”

Oh yes, camels are very useful. Especially if you’re trekking dunes and rocky desert lands.

Eventually Zuze and Mik are kicked out of Karou’s “monster castle” and back in Ouarzazate, and thankfully for the reader, the journey in Morocco doesn’t end there! Oh, no, Zuze stays put in Ouarzazate and refuses to leave without her best friend.

“Why are we still here, Zuze?”

“Here” was Ouarzazate…looked like a film set for The Mummy or something, which it probably was, seeing as how it was a movie studio town at the edge of the Sahara Desert.

Fun fact: The Oscar Hotel and Atlas Studios looked like an entire movie set from miles away, and I was told it was constantly being added to whenever a new film was being shot there. Ouarzazate also boasts one of the famous kasbahs, Ait Ben Haddou.

Ait Benhaddou was the most famous kasbah in Morocco, much bigger than monster castle, though lacking the zest of monsters. It had been restored by World Heritage funds and movie money–Russell Crowe had “gladiated” here–and it was sanitized and set-dressed for tourists. Shops in the lanes, rugs draped over walls, and at the main gate, camels batting their astonishing eyelashes as they posed for photographs–for a price, of course. Everything for a price, and don’t forget to bargain.

We can even add Aid Ben Haddou as the location where they filmed Yunkai from HBO’s Game of Thrones series. Oh yes. I was actually a bit excited about that. Go figure I’d get excited over visiting the slave city of Yunkai…but there it is. (As a side note: I also walked the Walk of Punishment in Astapor, which was in Morocco’s Essouaira, so that’s a plus.)

Side note: scaling to the top of Ait Ben Haddou was WORTH THE AGONY. I cannot continue to rave about what I saw at the top and how amazing the experience had been. Thanks mostly to Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight, I gained a great deal of perspective on the other side of the world. Also, this marks my first visit to Africa, and my first visit to a desert. The trip was worthwhile, and I’m glad I went when I did, even in the blistering–but dry–100-degree heat.

The only thing I was missing throughout this entire trip? The angels and demons.


Mini Reviews: The Steel Prince, Burn Bright

Yeah, my June readings amounted to…four books. Oops?! That being said, I spent quite a bit of the last half of the month traveling, so that might explain much. Also, audiobook reading slowed because I didn’t often have access to Libby.

But in any case! Before I did go on my Moroccan trip, I polished off two books within the same day. I guess when there’s a will, there’s a way, right?

Or, you know, they were entertaining enough that I absolutely devoured them.

This is definitely the case for Schwab. Especially when it’s a Schwab graphic novel.

And yeah, Briggs is, I suppose, also one of those insta-loves, though again, I’m still more of a ride-or-die Mercy Thompson fan over the Alpha and Omega series.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

TTT: Zombie Apocalypse Party

For more information on Top Ten Tuesday, click here.

I’m actually surprised I haven’t done one of these yet!

In my mind, there are two types of apocalypses you need to be ready for in the event of possibility: *

  1. Zombies
  2. Velociraptors

Let’s be real here, these are definitely things you can prepare for, especially with the right gear in tow.

*Let’s also be real here: If we’re suffering under a nuclear fallout or global warming a la The Day After Tomorrow, we’d be just extinct, so planning for those probabilities are moot. That’s what preventative measures are for, right?

Anyway, in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse, one needs to plan to stick to groups. Wandering around alone may be more stealthy and could potentially allow you to survive unaware hordes, but at the end of the day, you can’t do everything yourself (even if you are Wonder Woman). So you need a really good team to back you up. A really good team.

10 Fictional Characters To Add To Your Zombie Apocalypse Party

Cinder (Cinder by Marissa Meyer) – I’d bring Iko with me because she’s completely AI and dispensable (SORRYNOTSORRY), but if she broke down too quickly, I’d need a machinist to fix her. Why not bring the actual engineer to begin with, right? Cinder’s a perfect fit. She’s practically bionic, so getting bit by a zombie is only half-lethal for her. And she’d be able to download the schematics to every establishment for better navigation purposes.

Katsa (Graceling by Kristin Cashore) – You. Always. Bring. Katsa. No team about SURVIVAL is without a girl whose GRACE is Survival, and yes, I mean that with a capital S.

Kell (A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab) – Oh of course bring someone who has command of all elements, including blood magic. Fire is the enemy’s weakest point, and honestly, a firebender would do, too, but Kell is quite the lovely redhead. Also, if things go sideways, he can whisk at least one other person away to a different location (I choose myself, obviously…).

Gimli (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien) – And his axe. Seriously, that will come in handy.

Alina (Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo) – As will Alina’s superior ability to cut things (provided she doesn’t burn out). I’d have said the Darkling, but in all honesty, he’s probably the one responsible for causing the zombie apocalypse in the first place.

George (Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce) – Someone with the ability to See and sense the danger before the zombies actually come will be pretty useful in this party, and George has the Gift to do both. He’s also pretty handy with locks, and when you can’t outrun the zombie horde…you unlock a door and bolt it shut.

Bigby (Fables by Bill Willingham) – There’s something comforting about the Big Bad Wolf of the Fables universe. When completely surrounded, he can easily swipe them off in his big badassery. If that fails, he has the ability to huff, puff, and blow many of them away, buying enough time for the rest of the party to book it.

Paula (Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier) – Not everyone should be a combatant. At the end of the day, somebody needs to stay in the background to plot logistics. Paula isn’t a natural leader, but she’s a resourceful girl, and when everything goes to shit, she knows how to improve.

Shallan (The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson) – Like Paula, Shallan would be one of the people who would stay in the background for logistical purposes. She’s also observant and a damn good researcher, and for all I know, give her time and the resources, and she’ll probably cure the zombie plague, thereby ending the apocalypse.

Leah (Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs) – Because we always need that one person we can willingly sacrifice to the zombies to buy us an escape route. Oh, I suppose she’d be a fast runner, too, we always need those in the team?

Who’d be in your apocalypse party?

TTT: Literary Childhood Careers

For more information on Top Ten Tuesday, click here.

I’ve already done Childhood Favorites a while back, and that list doesn’t really change, so I decided to put a spin on things!

Looking back, I remember reading books as a kid and actually thinking: “Wouldn’t it be cool to have that as a career!” I mean, for a while, it was fun fantasizing the types of adventures I’d get up to with the career paths in fiction. Many usually start under humble beginnings, and that made me think, “Oh, if this person can start with nothing, I can, too!”

Alas, most of these careers don’t actually exist, and their real counterparts are probably something I’ll do in my next life (or something I might have already done in my previous, who knows).

Ten Jobs I Wanted After Reading Books In My Childhood

Assistant Pig-Keeper (The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander)

“And thus did an assistant pig-keeper become High King of Prydain.” Honestly, this could have gone either way. I wanted to be Eilonwy for a large part of my reading Alexander’s story of Prydain, but I felt like her final sacrifice was a cop-out and I REALLY WANTED HER TO KEEP HER MAGIC DAMMIT. Why can’t women be sorceresses AND queen consorts? Ugh. That said, Taran’s journey was something fun to read. He was, for most of the book–up until the last two–underestimated because he was some kid who was not a warrior, not a lord, but a boy training to become a pig-keeper. When I read of his journey, I totally wanted to be a pig-keeper’s assistant because Taran totally flourished even against all the odds.

Lady Knight (Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce)

Oh, you know this was on the list of things I wanted to be when I grew up. Knights and chivalry and kings and queens are things in fantasy I tended to read about growing up, but instead of being a princess, I totally wanted to be as kickass as Alanna. I wanted magical powers, purple eyes, and an ancient sword. I wanted to learn how to fight, how to pick locks (thanks a lot for that bout of misdemeanor, George), and how to rule a fief. I wanted to be a lady knight, and by the Goddess, if Alanna can crossdress her way to a shield, then as a girl, I could, too!

Archmage (The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin)

Before J.K. Rowling and Hogwarts, I wanted to be a wizard. When I started reading about Ged and Roke, the wizard school in Earthsea, I knew back then I wanted to be the Archmage of that school. Ged learned many things going to wizard school, and for a time, I could relate to Ged. Le Guin was quite honestly one of the entries to fantasy, especially one where dark-skinned, island-folk were the main characters. Ged and I shared many similarities; we’d lost a parent when we were younger, got shipped out of our homeland to a place where we went to school, and we were both dark-skinned and dark-haired. In the end, we both became teachers, even–granted, Ged just took it to a whole other level.

Girl Detective (Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene)

After reading so much of the Nancy Drew mysteries when I was in elementary school, of course I wanted to be just like Nancy Drew. For a brief time, I even fiddled with the idea of learning martial arts (which lasted one session) just so I can kick ass while solving crimes. Mystery novels were my jam, man, and knowing that a girl sleuth was solving them while her lawyer father was away screamed every bit of an adventure as, say, an assistant pig-keeper.

Space Scientist (A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle)

Oh yes, even before I realized I wanted to be The Doctor, I wanted to travel space and time by tesseracting. If Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which can tesseract, and the Murrys can tesseract, it’s definitely possible, right? I mean, Meg’s mother was practically a scientist who was studying tesseracts with her husband! Honestly, I wanted to be a general scientist because of A Wrinkle in Time. Then I realized I needed to pass physics for that, and…yeah. No thanks. But stars are pretty?

Chocolate Factory Owner (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl)

Oh come on. Who doesn’t want to be the next owner of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory? Who doesn’t want to win the final prize and a lifetime supply of chocolate? When I read this book, I kept yelling at Charlie to stop making silly mistakes. He still made some silly mistakes, but to be honest, I suppose that’s what got him the gig in the first place, right? Still, I could totally have done better in his shoes.

Evil Mastermind (Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer)

Artemis Fowl was the first glimpse I had to the wonderful spectrum of multi-faceted anti-heroes. Not only were there geniuses in the world, but Artemis Fowl taught me that many of them didn’t just save the world, they also tried to manipulate the natural order of things for their benefit. Sure, we find out why Artemis was doing the things he did, but it took a while, and it doesn’t excuse his pure conniving-ness. Frankly, I liked Artemis when he was entirely being a supervillain. But then again, this is also why I think Jafar, Maleficent, and Scar were my favorite Disney characters…

Also, doesn’t being an evil mastermind seem fun? It does to me.

Pianist Virtuoso (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

This is probably the most realistic profession on this list, and for a long while, I’d taken piano lessons hoping to be just like Beth March (and–for the later part of my formative years–Lizzie Bennet). Being a piano virtuoso may have been a possibility for me, had I the drive to practice piano hours and hours a day. But alas, books and school and video games kept me busy as is that piano was just something I did several times a week as a hobby. Nowadays I don’t even play the piano, though I do have great appreciation for pianists and the instrument itself.

Battle School Commander (Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card)

This idea was really cool to me up until Ender realizes he wasn’t playing a virtual game. This was the real deal, y’all. Actual armies were pitted against actual monsters, and all the commands were coming from this one savant who seemingly had the answers to everything. Ender played his game like a chess player would, and honestly, I wanted to be in that cockpit, sending my pawns and knights and bishops toward the enemy’s side. It was a cool concept, and I wanted to be part of it.

Maid Marian (The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley)

Alright, she’s not exactly a profession, but everything about McKinley’s Maid Marian worked for me. There’s still an image near the end of the book where Maid Marian takes Robin’s bow and shoots an arrow with it, and you’re kind of left going, “Oh shit. This girl’s got aim, too!” This image, this scene, was pretty much why I wanted to learn archery. Robin Hood opened up the doors for thieves with the heart of gold, but Maid Marian shooting like a BAMF was what got me fascinated by the legend in the first place. Forget Katniss Everdeen and Fire and Merida. Maid Marian is where it’s at.

So, my question is, how do you even begin applying for some of these jobs? XD