I bought this book for Lauren for Christmas because I wanted it for myself. This is the glorious thing about having two teenagers who like to read, you understand. By using Christmas as a valid excuse, I can, with very little guilt, triple my regular book purchases. (Because I have to get myself a few Christmas presents too, of course.)
So, I got this one for Lauren, pretty sure she would enjoy it about as much as I would. And I selflessly let her read it before I did.
The story begins with a girl named September standing at the sink washing a teacup. She is thinking about how lonely she is, and about how she really quite hates the teacups. And her amiable dog. And living without adventure. So, when the Green Wind stops outside her window, riding the back of a Very Kind Flying Leopard, and extends his hand in invitation, September steps out the window and follows him into Fairyland.
September accepts Fairlyland as it is, with its various delights and problems. Soon after her arrival, she agrees to retrieve a witch's spoon from the evil Marquess, who has taken control of Fairlyland and imposed many rules, such as 1) no iron of any kind is allowed, 2) the practice of alchemy is forbidden to all except young ladies born on Tuesdays, 3) aviary locomotion is permitted only by means of Leopard or licensed Ragword Stalk, and several more.
Soon September collects some friends (such as a Wyverary named A-Through-L, whose parents were (obviously) a Wyvern and a Library (and his siblings are M-Through-S and T-Through-Z, of course) and a Marid (rather like a genie) named Saturday).
I loved this book for its beautiful prose, its wry humor, and its magical descriptions. Let me show you:
September did not even wave good-bye. One ought not to judge her: All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one.
No one may know the shape of the tale in which they move...Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.
A-Through-L looked pityingly at her, his blazing face scrunched up in doubt. "September, really. Which do you think is more likely? That some brute bull left my mother with egg and went off to sell lonemozers? Or that she mated with a Library and had many loved and loving children? I mean, let us be realistic! Besides, everyone says I look just like my father. Can't you see my wings? Are they not made of fluttering vellum pages? If you squint you can even read a history of balloon travel!"
"This is for washing your wishes, September," said Lye [a soapy simulacrum, of course], breaking off another of her fingers with a thick snap [don't worry: she's soap; it doesn't hurt her]. "For the wishes of one's old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes. And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is, not everyone can tell when they ought to launder their wishes."
She certainly did not see Death stand on her tiptoes and blow a kiss after her, a kiss that rushed through all the frosted leaves of the autumnal forest but could not quite catch a child running as fast as she could. As all mothers know, children can travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.
Did I mention each chapter begins with an illustration?