I spent this past weekend reading The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente. I loved it. It’s my second contender for “favorite new book this year” which is not altogether surprising–since it’s tied with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.
I already reviewed the first book in the series, and all the wonderful things from that book carried over here–the magic and the whimsy and the beautiful, beautiful writing. This series combines so much of the loveliness of classic children’s fantasy with more complex characters facing more complicated choices.
The last book promised us this sequel was coming, and I think it’s worth quoting that line again: All stories must end so, with the next tale winking out of the corners of the last pages, promising more, promising moonlight and dancing and revels, if only you will come back when spring comes again.
The second book begins with our heroine, September, eagerly looking forward to a return to Fairyland. I’m drawn in right at the beginning, as Valente explores how hard it really would be for Dorothy to go back to Kansas–I mean, for September to go back to Nebraska. It doesn’t take long for her to fall back into Fairyland, where she eagerly anticipates fun adventures with her friends–only to discover that something has gone awry. September lost her shadow in the first book, and now she finds out that someone has been stealing shadows (and with them, magic) away from Fairyland. September must go on a quest into Fairyland Below–and there we find “moonlight and dancing and revels.” September meets old friends strangely changed and many new creatures and places that are decidedly odd indeed. Fairyland Below is a darker, more mysterious place and September doesn’t always know who she can trust.
The Girl Who Fell still has L. Frank Baum’s whimsy and J. M. Barrie’s charming way of addressing the reader, with an added dash of Lewis Carroll. September goes to a quite strange tea and coffee house, and we see chess references occasionally too.
Unlike Peter Pan (or really all the endlessly-young, never-changing children of classic fantasy), September is begining to grow up in this volume. She feels things a little deeper, thinks a little more, and there are just a few hints of romance. I love September; she’s a brave, resourceful girl who wants to solve the problems around her and do the right thing. But she doesn’t always know what the right thing is, and she struggles to know who she is herself, and what role she’s meant to play.
Many major characters from the previous book, like A-through-L, September and the Marquess return in this one–but Fairyland Below is dark and mysterious and all may not be quite as it seems. We also get to go to a Goblin Market, meet a minotaur and a dodo bird, and seek out a sleeping prince. There’s philosophy and there’s lyrical writing and we even get to play a bit with fairy tale tropes.
It is perhaps not a perfect book. There are a few time-jumps that are slightly disconcerting, and the ending is maybe a touch convenient. Though the ending makes me happy, so I don’t actually mind that much. And even if it’s not perfect, it comes very close. Unquestionably one of the best new books I’ve read this year.
Really, I don’t know how to do justice to this book. I loved it. I really, really, really loved it. I follow Valente on Twitter and she’s been referencing work on Fairyland 3. I will be pre-ordering that one as soon as it becomes available!
Author’s Site: http://www.catherynnemvalente.com/