September is twelve, and lives in Omaha. Her father went away to war, and her mother works in a factory. One evening, when she is doing the dishes, the Green Wind shows up at her kitchen window on a flying leopard and invites her to come along on adventures to Fairyland. But while Fairyland is a delightful and magical place (naturally), all is not fun and games. The former queen, Mallow, has been replaced by the capricious Marquess, a girl not much older than September.
While on a mission to try to retrieve a very special spoon from the Marquess for some nice witches who assisted her along the way, September is sent on a quest to the woods of Autumn. If she doesn't fetch a very precious artifact for the Marquess and return in a week, the Marquess will hurt not only September's new friends and companions, the Wyverary (a wyvern whose father was a library) and the boy Saturday, but generally make the inhabitants of Fairyland suffer.
So September has no choice but to go off questing. During her adventures in Fairyland, she meets a whole host of interesting creatures (like the aforementioned witches, gnomes, a soap golem and more), she sacrifices her shadow to save a child, she faces her Death, very valiantly tries to avoid eating Fairy food, and learns all manner of important and significant lessons. Will she manage to find Queen Mallow's sword before The Marquess' time limit runs out? What will happen to her and her friends if she fails?
Clearly inspired by Victorian children's stories like Alice's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan, this book is a wonderful story, which never talks down to kids, and makes me wish I had children of my own to read it to. Having read Valente's Deathless before this, I knew that she had a wonderful way with words, but the brilliant way she constructs the story in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (surely the longest children's book title out there) took my breath away.
September is a great protagonist, impulsive and headstrong like 12-year-olds should be, and described as quite heartless (as children's hearts grow as they age) but also brave and loyal and affectionate. She's intelligent and knows quite a bit about how things must happen in stories, having read many of them herself. Her companions are also great, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series, the second of which was published in hardback earlier this month.