“No matter where you stand, everything is always and forever much bigger than you can tell.”
Back in Fairyland for the third time, Our Heroine September, now fourteen years old, is tasked with delivering an important package to Fairyland’s Moon. Of course, she’s immediately drawn into an Adventure involving a Yeti who threatens to shake the Moon apart, a photographic tiger named Turing, and Almanack, the Whelk of the Moon.
Sadly, I’m not convinced that The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland is quite as delightful as its predecessors. While Valente’s language still dances lyrically through the gardens of myth and legend and fairytale, it seems to be saying less. Or, rather, it says too much. Valente’s pages are bogged down all too often by great swathes of dialogue which, while whimsical and Meaningful as ever, do nothing to move the story along, and frequently feel desperately out of character. The Marid Saturday, who could barely put a sentence together in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, speaks entire moralising paragraphs here. The book shows instead of tells far too often for comfort; every new character we meet, and there are many, seems introduced for the sole purpose of teaching us a new lesson, about Fate or Growing Up or How to Cope With Having a Heart (for September is no longer Mostly Heartless, of course).
As a result, it’s lost that very special melding of fairytale and modernity that made the first two books unique. And it’s lost its wildness, too: there is little darkness here, little of the sense that wanderers in this bright and perilous land can lose themselves as September lost herself in the Autumn Provinces or in Fairyland-Below. There are wonders, but they are benign wonders. They are safe wonders, and so, of course, no longer wonderful. They are merely sights: amazing, storied, beautiful, but narratively meaningless.
There is loveliness here, it’s true: the relationships between September and Ell and Saturday are well-developed and occasionally heart-wrenching (“I will hoist you up, when you are little”), and Ell’s curse is a nice metaphor for the uncontrollableness of adolescence. Valente tackles the weirdness associated with Saturday’s relationship with time nicely, too: a throwaway moment in the first book in which September sees her and Saturday’s grown daughter becomes a fairly major emotional struggle for September here, and I like that Valente dealt with the strangeness of it rather than allowing it to lapse into fairytale cliché.
Also, I’m intrigued by the ending and its potential for thinking about (without falling into the Spoiler Trap) whether Fairyland means anything without the Real World. The next book in the series, I think I’m correct in stating, doesn’t feature September, at least not as its lead; it may be that she’s come to the end of her useful arc with this ending. But I suspect I’ll need to read that next entry before I can say anything about that; it will be interesting seeing where Valente takes this.
Overall, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland is a mostly-decent book: a cut above most YA, anyway, and certainly an improvement on most fairytales. It’s just not quite as special as its predecessors. Absorbing, but ultimately disappointing.