by Trevor, Village Books bookseller
I love speculative fiction. It doesn't matter whether it's science fiction or fantasy, written for an adult audience or younger, if it has a great story and memorable characters then count me in. And though it's hard for me to choose one favorite overall series, I can identify the most fun series for sure: Catherynne M. Valente's Fairyland. Although shelved in the middle grade speculative fiction section, these books are amazing fun and should be enjoyed by readers of any age. Because of how fun it is to read Valente's writing aloud it can also be a fun book to read together with a partner. The prose is whimsical and fun; the characters, from intrepid young girl and series protagonist September, to later additions like Hawthorn and his patchwork wombat Blunderbuss, are unique and lovable; and fairyland itself? Trust me, you've never read a fantasy world quite like fairyland. Sure, there's familiar mythological creatures like marids, witches, and yeti's, but there's also plenty more like the various winds who ride upon flying cat steeds like the leopard of little breezes, (except the blue wind, because she's chosen to ride a flock of puffins instead of a cat).
The story begins with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship Of Her Own Making. 12 year old September lives in Omaha during the World War II era and receives an intriguing offer from the green wind to ride with him on his flying leopard and visit fairyland. As she makes her way she undertakes a quest to restore the kingdom from the evil ruler who's imposed strict laws on all fairyland's many fantastical creatures. She quickly befriends a wyverary, a dragon-like creature with a wyvern and a library for parents, named A-through-L, and a marid, a creature similar to a djinn that lives in all times at once, named Saturday to aid in her quest. Over the course of the series these three encounter many friends and foes while traveling through fairyland, the shadow realm of fairyland below, and the moon, finally culminating in a race between all past rulers of fairyland to see who will be crowned king or queen.
The fourth book in the series, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, steps away from September, Saturday, and A- through-L, but don't skip it or you'll miss out on the adventures of the changeling troll Hawthorn as he's whisked away from fairyland to be raised in Chicago. As he discovers he's not a human at all, but a troll taken from his native world he also meets Tamburlaine, a girl made of wood, and brings his stuffed wombat Blunderbuss to life as a fearsome combat wombat. Even though you meet them 3 books into the series they are a welcome addition to the cast and help bring the series to its conclusion in the fifth book, The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home.
My girlfriend and I loved the writing so much that we read much of the first book aloud to each other. Differing schedules and curiosity to see what happened in fairyland prevented us doing this more, but if you're patient I encourage you to try it. Valente's writing is charming to hear out loud. I like this series so much that my girlfriend even made me my own patchwork wombat, like Blunderbuss in books 4 and 5. I hope you enjoy this series as much as I do!
Read more of Trevor's Picks here!