Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland

Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath FairylandThe Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente
Series: Fairyland #2
Published by Feiwel & Friends on October 2, 2012
Genres: Adventure, Fairy Tales, Fantasy
Pages: 258
Format: ARC
Source: Library
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four-stars

“One of the most extraordinary works of fantasy, for adults or children, published so far this century.”—Time magazine, on the Fairyland series

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. . . .

Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series recalls classic tales very clearly, but, rather than coming across as redundant, Valente weaves them together into something wholly new. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (TGWFBF for short) dives back into the vibrant world of Fairyland, adding further depth and wonder to an already glorious world.

At the novel’s opening, September remains in Nebraska, impatiently waiting some summons to return to Fairyland. As the days pass, September becomes increasingly glum, missing her father, off fighting in WWII, and her Fairyland friends. What immediately becomes apparent is that our little September has done some maturing in her time since the last book. Though still grumpier than average, now thirteen, September’s a bit softer than she once was. Much as I loved the grouchy, irascible September, I love seeing characters mature, and the way that having such wonderful friends has helped her grow.

Now, I’m going to take a bit of an aside, as I seem to have a tendency to do in Valente reviews; I blame her, and the way her words inspire me. In the first book, Valente describes children as heartless. In TGWFBF, she describes teens this way:

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.

To some, these designations may seem rather heartless in and of themselves. Keep in mind, however, that TGWFBF is largely metaphorical. Young children do not have fully developed minds, senses of right and wrong, or, in Freudian terms, ego, which leads to that cruelty that can be witnessed in children. Teens have grown so much, but they’re not settled. They’re learning, but everything is new, confusing, awkward, and they don’t necessarily have all the information and experience necessary to parse experiences both emotional and otherwise.

To digress further, the reason I love this quote so very much is that I think it encapsulates why I, as an adult, find young adult, and sometimes even middle grade fiction, so compelling. Yes, there are other factors as well, like the creativity and subject matter, but that right there is a big reason. Though I’m a decade out from 16 now, I often identify more with these teen heroines than the ones I find in adult fiction. Partly, this is market-driven, but it also correlates to the phase of life I’m in. What it comes down to is that teen hearts and adult hearts are not that far removed, necessarily.

Getting back onto track, September does finally manage to make her way down to Fairyland and, in fact beneath it, as the title suggests. When September arrives in Fairyland, she does not find the happy place she left. You may remember that September’s shadow was taken from her during the first book. Turns out that September’s shadow has led a shadow revolution, bringing all of them down below Fairyland, and taking Fairyland’s magic with them.

Almost the entirety of TGWFBF occurs in this shadow world beneath Fairyland, and September spends her time with shadows of her friends, former enemies, and herself. Valente uses the shadows to make a deep comment about what lies within each person. The shadows represent the selves that we keep hidden below the surface. Hesitant people would have impulsive shadows, for instance. TGWFBF beautifully highlights the fact that, whatever we may show on the surface, everyone’s made up of all the same things. We’re all capable of good or of evil.

In TGWFBF, the fact that Fairyland is a mental escape for September from the harsh realities of her real life in wartime becomes much more apparent. Where September and her mother scrape by on rations in Nebraska, she can feast on delicious things in Fairyland. As her worries at hearing nothing from her father increase, she descends into the magical landscape as a way of distracting herself. It’s a rather similar narrative device to the one used in Chronicles of Narnia, but much more subtly and fancifully done.

The cast of characters delights and entrances. The one drawback I had, though, was that I didn’t quite get the emotional engagement this time, as September spent her time with the shadow versions of her dear friends, and I missed them. However, the shadows really opened up Maud, the villain of the first book. Villains so often get passed over characterization-wise, but Valente continues to build out her motivations even from the start made in the first book.

Though the Fairyland series is marketed as a middle grade series, do not let that stop readers of any age. Adults, read this without shame, as you should anything, and teens as well. Valente’s Fairyland series is intricate, clever, and jaw-droppingly magical, and all portrayed with some of the most gorgeous writing I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.

Favorite Quote:

“I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about their Heart’s Desire—well that’s a load of rot. Hearts are idiots. They’re big and squishy and full of daft dreams. They flounce off to write poetry and moon at folk who aren’t worth the mooning. Bones are the ones that have to make the journey, fight the monster, kneel before whomever is big on kneeling these days. Bones do the work for the heart’s great plans. Bones know what you need. Hearts only know want.”

8 responses to “Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland”

  1. Nori says:

    This series sounds amazing. I’ve had the first book for forever, and I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten to it yet. You make me want to buy the other two and just go on a binge. I was never a huge fan of the covers and maybe that’s why I’ve postponed reading? Any way, the two quotes you picked, alone, make me want to read them.
    Nori recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday (66)My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      You should, Nori! They are fantastical and I think you would love them! Really? I looooove the covers. Especially once I’ve read the books. THE WHOLE BOOK IS LIKE THOSE QUOTES. Everything’s so insightful it makes me want to swoon from the brilliance.

  2. Bonnie says:

    I so loved the shadow aspect. That piece of ourself we keep hidden inside, it’s so accurate. The comparisons to the Chronicles of Narnia are so very accurate. I love how this is a book based in September’s real life during WWII but that’s never what the story is about, the real story is so very whimsical and fun completely overpowering the harsh realities she lives in.

    I’m anxiously awaiting for audible to release the third book. I have no idea why it’s not there yet. 🙁
    Bonnie recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday – Fury of the Demon (Kara Gillian #6) by Diana RowlandMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I was wondering about the audio version actually. I know there will be one, but I was pulling links for the post and it wasn’t up yet. Which is weird since book three is OUT. This would be a good series to audio, though I am in love with my print version.

      Also, unrelated to this discussion, but I’ll be back to visit you later. I was having issues loading your blog. I got a weird notice about my session expiring in Chrome, and something about a possibly malicious script in Firefox. Could just be me, but I wanted to let you know! It’s never happened before. :/

      • Bonnie says:

        I listened to the very first one on audio and Valente herself narrates it and it was fantastic. I got an ARC for the second one so I ended up just reading that one. It is weird, because the physical CD is available but it’s not available through audible yet.

        Gah! It keeps doing that to me too, especially when I visit my Something To Look Forward To page. You’re using Google Chrome and it’s that Aw, Snap dead folder guy huh? I don’t know what is going on. 🙁 I’m guessing it’s a Blogger problem?
        Bonnie recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday – Fury of the Demon (Kara Gillian #6) by Diana RowlandMy Profile

        • Christina Franke says:

          Oooh, Valente narrates? I love the idea of author narration, but sometimes they do not have the voice for it. Audible, what’s your deal?

          Oh no! That’s sad. Hmmm, I’ve visited a couple other blogger blogs without an issue. Maybe you have a bad image or something? I had one random image, nothing weird about it at all, that caused my sidebar to move to the bottom of my blog. It made no sense, but it was the issue. It was tiny too, so it’s not like it was too wide. I’m not good at that stuff. :-/

  3. Is it bad that my main reason for not starting this trilogy yet is that the book names don’t fit in on line on my blog titles, and that irks me very, very much?

    Oops. But still, I’ve heard SUCH amazing things about this trilogy. Maybe I’ll read it some day. Maybe.
    Blythe Harris recently posted…Finding Fright in Books : Michelle Krys’ Favorite WitchesMy Profile

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