Feiwel & Friends, 2012, 272 pages
September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows - and their magic - to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September's shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland's shadows back.
"For though, as we have said, all children are heartless, this is not precisely true of teenagers. Teenage hearts are raw and new, fast and fierce, and they do not know their own strength. Neither do they know reason or restraint, and if you want to know the truth, a goodly number of grown-up hearts never learn it."
I went wild for the first Fairyland book: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. In Book Two, we find September a year older, back in Nebraska, and she's been pining for Fairyland all year. Catherynne Valente's wise and self-aware story, always shouting out credit to its predecessors, does not neglect internal growth and consistency in its characters. September is unpopular at school and unhappy at home and being in Fairyland has marked her, even if no one has noticed yet that she no longer has a shadow. Of course she wants to return to Fairyland and frolic with Saturday, her blue-skinned Marid boy, and A-Through-L, her beloved Wyverary. How can any child who's been to Narnia or Oz or Wonderland not want to return there?
But September is thirteen now: still a child, but old enough to begin realizing that childhood has an expiration date.
"Oh, September! It is so soon for you to lose your friends to good work and strange loves and high ambitions. The sadness of that is too grown-up for you. Like whiskey and voting, it is a dangerous and heady business, as heavy as years. If I could keep your little tribe together forever, I would. I do so want to be generous. But some stories sprout bright vines that tendril off beyond our sight, carrying the folk we love best with them, and if I knew how to accept that with grace, I would share the secret."
In Book One, September had to sacrifice her shadow to save a Pooka girl. Unfortunately, leaving her shadow behind in Fairyland has grave consequences. Her shadow has taken on a life of its own, become its own person, and now rules Fairyland-Below as Halloween, the Hollow Queen. Halloween is September, but without blooms of conscience and restraint. But she is not evil, like the Marquess. (Who wasn't really evil either.)
September remembered suddenly that a whole handful of years had passed in Fairyland. Halloween was not new at ruling, and in fact, though she looked no different than September, she must be much older now, perhaps fifteen or even sixteen! Almost a grown-up. And she must have been stewing over this, chewing over her fear in the dark, the fear that she was not real. That she was only a reflection of September, a poor, ignored little sister.
Halloween has begun stealing shadows from Fairyland-Above, and by stealing their shadows, she is stealing Fairyland's magic. September once again has to save Fairyland from a girl who's behaving very badly, and once again, her adversary is full of complexity and surprises and won't be taken down just by defeating her in battle.
"Why would I ever want to go home?" September's shadow sneered in her own voice. "Haven't you noticed that home is terrible and boring and nothing ever happens there? Come on, September! Tell me you didn't spend all year just waiting to come back to Fairyland, pining away and reading up on centaurs and looking out your window for our Green friend?" Halloween spread her shadowy hands. "Tell me you spent your days just basking in the wonderfulness of Nebraska and appreciating its simple joys, having just as many lovely adventures as you would have had here, happy as a clam not to be in a place where magic is real and everyone knows your name? Look me in the eye and tell me it's true, and I'll come back with you right now. I'll tag along like a good little doggy!"
As with the first book, I could post a review full of nothing but quotable excerpts. Valente's prose sometimes makes my eyes glaze over in her adult books. In the Fairyland books, her words are still cleverly-wrought and idea-dense, and I am not really sure how much might go over the heads of younger readers, but I just love how she expresses everything from zany magical concepts (I loved the Periodic Table of Tea, and Avogadra, the Monaciello Questing Physickist, is my new favorite minor character) to the intimations of grown-up feelings that are beginning to blossom in September's heart. Valente has said that there will be an entire Fairyland series, ending when September reaches adulthood, and I wonder just how much more sophisticated and self-aware September will become. Certainly we can already see a tiny bit of the Harry Potter phenomenon (a Middle-Grade series on the cusp of transitioning to Young Adult), though Valente, I think handles her protagonist much more deftly than Rowling ever convinced me that she really grasps the psychology of a boy growing up.
In The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, September experiences her first kiss, her first betrayal, meets old friends and makes new ones, faces enemies old and new, and runs rampant across Fairyland-Below, to the bottom of the world, and eventually... well, I won't spoil too much. But like the last book, just read it, read it now. Unless your heart is two sizes too small, you will enjoy it. And it's as full as the last book of delightful quotes I just want to keep pasting into my review.
"Because it's my fault, you see. I did it. And you must always clean up your own messes, even when your messes look just like you and curtsy very viciously when what they mean is, I am going to make trouble forever and ever."
Have you read The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There?
Have you read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Verdict: It doesn't disappoint. The Fairyland series is one I will preorder and buy in hardcover as long as they come out. I want these books to have existed when I was a child. My highest recommendation.
Also by Catherynne M. Valente: My reviews of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Habitation of the Blessed, and Silently and Very Fast.
My complete list of book reviews.