“Sometimes, work is the gift of the world to the wanting.”
Catherynne M. Valente
You may remember my extreme fangirling a week or so ago about a book called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which was quite possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Well, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is its sequel, which I rushed out and bought basically as soon as humanly decent after finishing The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland.
It’s been a year since September fought the Marquess at the Lonely Gaol, and she’s beginning to wonder, Harry Potter-style, whether it’s all been a dream, when she sees a silver lady in a rowboat crossing a field of grass. This being an unusual occurrence for Nebraska, she follows the boat, and falls through a crack in the world back into Fairyland.
But Fairyland is in trouble. Its shadows are disappearing, taking its magic with them, sinking down into the dark underworld of Fairyland-Below. September follows them, and finds herself face-to-face with the architect of it all, Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is none other than September’s own shadow, who she traded away in return for the life of an unknown child. And how can you fight your own shadow?
So this is going to be a difficult review to write without repeating everything I said last week. Because it’s all here: Valente’s breathtakingly, heartbreakingly beautiful prose, her storylines which are as classic and right as any Grimm’s fairytale, and her wild, strange, dark Fairyland, so full of wonders and tricks and magical things. It’s a book, I think, which makes you alive to the world again, to its mysteries and its light, to the magic which is in the everyday. I could inhabit Valente’s world for ever.
I did feel, though, that Valente is perhaps a little heavyhanded with her moral – it’s a story about choice and about consent, and it wears it very firmly on its sleeve – and a little confused about where her story needed to end. Certainly I didn’t find the denouement as satisfying as that of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. And Fairyland-Below is so very dark and terrifying, with its flat-faced Sybil and its Alleyman as scary as any Weeping Angel, its betrayals and its shadows; it feels like the Fairyland books have grown up a little, as it were. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland is a very different kind of beast to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, and perhaps a little less successful, but it’s still a story, I think, to which I’ll return, again and again.
And, just because I can’t resist:
September did not know what to think. A bashful Ell and a madcap Saturday – everything truly had turned upside down and slantwise. She did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of the world and of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms – and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too – end up in their shadow.