Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.
Fans of Valente’s bestselling, first Fairyland book will revel in the lush setting, characters, and language of September’s journey, all brought to life by fine artist Ana Juan. Readers will also welcome back good friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. But in Fairyland Below, even the best of friends aren’t always what they seem…
Thoughts: Almost a year ago I read Valente’s previous book in this series, The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making, and yes, the titles are consistently that long. It’s part of the amusement behind them, really. The chapter titles follow the same theme, being things like, “In Which September Does This Thing, Eats That Thing, and Learns Something About That Over There.”
In the previous book, September traded away her shadow. Now, she’s a year older and is revisiting Fairyland, which is quite different from what it once was. Magic is fading and is rationed, a mirror or the food rations in September’s normal WWII life. People’s shadows keep disappearing, sucked down to Fairyland-below by a mysterious figure known as the Alleyman. And September’s shadow is presiding as Queen of Fairyland-Below, turning the whole thing into a free-for-all party where people can do what they want, when they want, and shadows are not limited in their actions why what their physical bodies did in the world above. We see shadows of old favourites, characters who appeared in the first Fairyland novel, such as Saturday and A-Through-Ell, and it’s interesting to see how being free of their physical forms has changed them. Sometimes for the better, and other times, not so much. Halloween, as September’s shadow has called herself, makes for a fascinating villain, because she’s not evil or even a bad person. She’s just a person, given infinite freedom for the first time, and she’s more than a little drunk on that power. It’s easy to sympathize with her, agreeing with her goals if not her methods.
And all the while, as magic drains from Fairyland due to the lack of shadows, Fairyland and the real mundane world start to merge, little by little. This idea captivated me, the idea of the world we live in every day possibly once having been as amazing and magical as Fairyland itself, before magic was drained away and is now lacking from our lives. This, I think, is something that will stick in the minds of people who never wanted to grow up, to leave childhood behind and enter the real world and all of its problems. If only there was still magic…
Valente weaves a tremendously imaginative tale in her Fairyland novels. Straddling that lone between the whimsical and the eminently practical, the story is fast-paced and creative, her characters a delight to read about. With the previous novel, I read it slowly, piece by piece, making the reading adventure seem to last as long as the adventure contained within the book’s pages, and I wondered if that was part of the enjoyment, feeling as though time was passing for both myself and the characters, making it all last so that the story didn’t have to end. With this book, I tore through it, finishing it in less than a day, and I can say with certainty that the story was no less strong and enjoyable for having read it quickly instead of slowly.
This is the kind of book that can appeal to everyone, regardless of age. The appeal to children is obvious, given the fantastical nature of the story and the age range for which it is written. But it also speaks to adults, those of us who long for the days when we would play games about going to Fairyland ourselves, yearning for the kinds of adventures that September experienced, and reigniting that child-like spark in our hearts. Narnia meets Alice in Wonderland, and we’re all going for a trip down the rabbit hole. I challenge anyone to read this and not remember the childhood joy of pretending, of making adventures for yourself and spending days in fantastic places amongst weird and wonderful people and creatures. This series is for the kid who sleeps in every adult, waiting to wake up from a nap and be amazed at the world again.
Valente doesn’t pull punches when it comes to what younger audiences can understand, either. From concepts like describing a sybil as a door shaped like a girl, to September’s repeated wonderings about what she’s going to do with her life and what her destiny is, Valente treats children as people who just haven’t had the chance to discover things instead of people who aren’t capable of understanding them. Children will not only close this book having been entertained, but also educated, a little bit wiser for having learned things and been made to give them some decent thought. And Valente does this with style and grace, knowledge moving in such a way it doesn’t feel forced or awkward. Very much like a book, really. You open it, and knowledge is there on the pages, and simply by reading it enters your mind and changes you.
I will never tire of this series. Valente could keep writing stories set in Fairyland for years, following September’s journey through life, and I would read every single one, eager to share in more of her adventures. And I wish I could stop talking about these books in such poetic terms, too, but at the same time, they’re worth every word I say, high-minded or otherwise. The Fairyland books are destined to be classics, and I’m strongly in favour of everyone giving them a chance. The appeal is wide, the story amazing, and the entertainment value is limitless. If you haven’t read these books yet, you’re really missing out.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)