I loved this book so much that weeks later I’m still struggling to express my reactions coherently. Valente explicitly draws on the works of Barrie, Baum, Carroll, Lewis, and the folk tale tradition as represented by the Grimms and Andrew Lang’s compendia. It has a dash of post-modern self-referential awareness of its own narrative (but not so much that’s it likely to trouble younger readers). September is a terrific heroine: she’s smart, plucky, and she actually knows about the mistakes made by Wendy, Dorothy, Alice, the Pevensies, et al (which doesn’t mean she doesn’t make her own). The Wyverary is a wonderful creation, with a singular handicap and backstory that would have been perfectly at home in The Phantom Tollbooth, but a warmth and depth that belongs only here. And September’s Omaha is much more solid than the the dry sketch of Kansas, the flimsy Kensington Gardens, or wherever the rabbit hole and that wardrobe were.
Valente’s prose is magnificent: rich and evocative in the way many of the fairytale classics really aren’t, with a rhythm and syntax that recalls 19th and early 20th century children’s books without actually being old fashioned. It’s a book that absolutely cries to be read aloud. The denatured versions of fairy stories frequently elide their essential melancholy and air of menace; Valente incorporates ample quantities of both (there were times I couldn’t put the book down to go to sleep until a character’s dilemma was resolved).
If I have quibbles they are few and minor: the book is a tad slow to distinguish its plot from a standard fairytale quest (but I was too swept up to much care). Near the end a continuity gaffe pulled me out of the story for a moment. But only for a moment.
needs more demons? assuredly not.