When I was a little girl with dreams bigger than my brain, I wanted to be an explorer. I thought I would be quite good at it; sailing in an old boat, trusting nothing but my compass and the lines etched onto old treasure maps. I thought I would discover some new land, maybe fight some monsters and still be home in time for tea ready for my nice happy ending. It was a nice dream. One that despite the troubles of adult life I’ve never really given up on. But as any grown up will understand, it is a dream that has been subject to a few compromises. The first devastating blow came when I learned that it is highly unlikely a sailboat will get me across the world and back in time for tea, the second was that most monsters have been fought back already by fisherman and poachers who didn’t understand the importance of what they were doing. Needless to say, I never became an explorer, at least in the traditional sense. Even if the logistics had been feasible it turns out old sailing ships are very expensive. However, this year I’ve gotten to visit lots of different worlds, through wonderful and captivating books. It was almost like being an explorer, if you think about it…
‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making’ by Catherynne M Valente
“I’m not lost, because I haven’t any idea where to go that I might get lost on the way to. I’d like to get lost, because then I’d know where I was going, you see.”
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.
Fairyland was a wonderful place, full of bizarre characters like a wyvern who is also half library (a wyvery if you will), a boy who grants wishes if you can best him in a fight and the tricksy and cruel Marquess. It was a world that was all too easy to get lost in, with a narrator who addressed you directly; making you feel like an important part of September’s story. With the beautiful imagery and skilful narration this book created a world that I, like September, didn’t want to leave. It was fairyland as it was always meant to be; dark and tricksy, full of confusing rules and bizarre histories but still beautiful. In its own utterly unique way.
‘The Monstrous Child’ by Francesca Simon
“Before you hate me, before you condemn me remember, I never asked to be Hel’s queen.”
Meet Hel, teenager and queen of the dead. Daughter of a giantess and a god. Sister to Fenrir the wolf and Jormungand the snake. This is her testament. Hel never wanted to be queen, but being a normal teenager wasn’t an option either. Now she’s stuck ruling the underworld. For eternity. She doesn’t want your pity. But she does demand you listen. It’s only fair you hear her side of the story…It didn’t have to be like this.
Earlier this year I stumbled into the realm of the Norse gods and saw it through fresh eyes. Hel’s story was not cheerful; born with the legs of a corpse, the teenage goddess led a cursed life from the moment she was born. In this story, I followed Hel as she is taken from her hateful mother, shown the wonders of Asgard and thrown into the underworld. Destined to become queen for an eternity. Every word in this book is dripping with a dry sarcasm and resentment; although the language used is simple it is carefully crafted to walk the line between anger and wit. Nieflheim was the darkest of the worlds I visited but given the chance, I would go there for another eternity.
The Island of Joya
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
“Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk, even in the way we grow.”
Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped. When her best friend disappears, she’s determined to be part of the search party. Guided by an ancient map and her knowledge of the stars, Isabella navigates the islands dangerous forgotten territories. But beneath the dry rivers and dead forests, a fiery myth is stirring from its sleep…
The island of Joya was a place rich with mythology and history. Seen through the eyes of a cartographers’ daughter the reader is given a unique perspective of the land; the implications of the story are reflected in the landscape. As you travel through the forgotten lands of the island, you witness a story of friendship and loyalty, beautifully told in a mythological style.
See a full review of The Girl of Ink and Stars here
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
“Once, there was a girl who vowed she would save everyone in the world, but forgot herself.”
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once. At the centre of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking. Until one day, he does… As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?
Fairfold was a wonderful blend of reality and magic. A normal town with an abnormal twist; faeries. But not the twinkly kind; the tricky, ancient kind with promises and punishments. We all enjoy fairy stories; trapped royalty, curses, sordid deals, what’s not to love? But this story contrasted it perfectly with modern life. There’s a boy with pointed ears and horns sleeping in a glass coffin, of course tourists would flock to take selfies with him. The story begins as a modern-day fairy tale but as the characters’ actions unfurl a darkness creeps in, creating a fulfilling blend of myth, reality and fear.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find a storybook world that fills your desires. As a long-time lover of myths and legends I have filled my year with fantasies, worlds that whisk me away to something more beautiful but also darker then the life I lead. 2016 has been a year for exploring realms of fantasy and magic. Who knows what I’ll discover as I begin new adventures in 2017?