It’s difficult for me, personally, to read portal Fantasy without comparing it against Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, especially those with a fairy tale lilt to its voice. It’s hardly fair to hold one novel against a work of fiction that still, just by evoking its name, transports me, like its protagonist, to another time, another place: a rainy December afternoon, just after Christmas, when I first discovered the beauty of Gaiman’s whimsical imagination. The Girl Who Circumnavigated the World in a Ship of Her Own Making (furthermore, The Girl Who…) has such soul, such a wonderfully commanding and joyous relationship with language, myth and fairy tale, however, that soon after its opening scene, I stopped comparing it against other works, and, in a critic-proof manner that makes this review difficult to write, began to read the work without thought. I fell into its pages, and only crawled out again alongside September, a girl who loses and finds herself in Fairyland.
September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.
Though September’s tale is familiar, the telling of it is extraordinary. She is an intelligent girl, though her intellect is often lost behind the naivety of her youth and gets her into as much trouble as it solves. Much of what a reader needs to know about September is summed up in a particular passage that caught my attention:
One ought not to judge her: all children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown.