The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Endings are tricky things. They don’t really exist, as the narrator helpfully reminds us, and yet, at the same time, the point where you do stop talking does create a rift between before and after, said and unsaid, known and imagined. September and her friends will have many adventures after this book is closed, but a cycle has been ended, a saga has been told, and so it’s time to take our gold stars to give out like medals of honour that really say “I loved you and thank you for having told me your story”.
The Girl Who Raced picks up right where the previous volume ended, but this time in more comfortable, settled-in shoes: September, Ell, and Saturday are back up front, a crown has been (temporarily) acquired, a Combat Wombat is happily trampling through the pages (without eating the book whole, luckily for us), and a whole host of villains has been unleashed upon Fairyland, including a well-known Marquess and her hat.
There is an obvious element of rush and finality to the whole book. There is a race against time, and a race against rulers, and a race to uncover a secret, and a race to be able to stay, and a race to be able to remember, and a race to be able not to lose everything and all.
We get to see new and wonderful parts of Fairyland, as well as revisit some dear and old favourites (and some less dear ones). Stories and characters get closure, secrets are unveiled, and people arrive either too early or too late.
Some tropes get turned upside down: where we usually see September lose herself, her certainties, her identity, and her possessions, this time we see her claim it all back, with the wisdom of an experienced Fairyland adventures, a Criminal, a Knight, a Spinster, a Queen.
In fact, many important people and objects and plot points from all the previous books make a comeback, racing with our main characters towards the finale.
And because endings mirror beginnings, at the end of the race and the adventure and the excitement, there must be blood.
It’s always hard to rate a last book. It’s unfair to judge it all by itself, as if it were not climax and denouement of all sorts of previous tales; and it’s unfair to stamp on it the weight of the expectations, laughter, tears, and anger of a whole series, when what it does is spin a story of its own.
The Girl Who Races is lucky because it comes up as excellent on all and both counts. I will definitely miss September, and crazy Fairyland, and all of its inhabitants, though safe in the knowledge that that great country will never end stealing children from our world and spinning new wild and exotic adventures for all those who dare leave their house on the back of a flying leopard.
I followed September, and just like her, I lost my heart.