rymenhild: gears from anime series Princess Tutu (The gears of the story)
[personal profile] rymenhild
I suspect that most of my friends can be divided into two groups: the friends who'd be delighted by Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making and the friends who'd thrill to Cat Valente's Deathless.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland: Take a young girl who is "ill-tempered and irascible" and give her the chance to enter the kind of allegorical fantasy world we all recognize as Oz, Neverland, Narnia, and the Kingdom of Wisdom from Norton Juster's Phantom Tollbooth. Let her quest be described by a witty narrator who (knowingly, self-consciously, ironically) borrows her language and her tendency to cross the fourth wall from L. Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll by way of Juster. Then take all of the genre conventions of allegorical fantasy worlds and stamp on them, hard. Let the young girl have agency, and make her actively choose every path she takes. Let the heroine control the world, rather than forcing the world to control the heroine. Let the heroine be, in Seanan McGuire's words, a wicked girl, and let her save herself. Let the climax of the book respond directly and specifically to its forebears in children's literature, and let it punch its forebears in the face.

That's Fairyland, and that description should tell you quite clearly whether it's your kind of book or not. It's my kind of book, and I'll be reading its forthcoming sequels with delight.

Then there's Deathless, which is not at all like Fairyland, except insofar as its protagonist is a wicked woman who saves herself. Marya Morevna starts out as an imaginative, rebellious girl like Fairyland's September. As she grows up into an adult, in the changing political and folkloric landscapes of Russia in the first half of the twentieth century, Marya becomes strong, hard, a soldier, a general who outfights and outthinks her lovers. She will be taught by Baba Yaga to become a polyamorous dominatrix. She will pay whatever costs she must in order to survive. Cat Valente's narrative voice here is clean, sharp, harsh, with the black, black humor of samizdat jokes in Soviet Russia.

Deathless is a masterwork, perhaps Cat's finest writing. I won't be rereading it often, though. I don't have the strength to laugh at starvation the way Marya and her friends do.

That's the last fun reading until the dissertation is filed, I hope. See you all on the other side, where there will be lots and lots and lots of novels.
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rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)
rymenhild

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