by: Catherynne M. Valente
When I picked up this book (a whole year ago!) I really wanted to have that magic feeling of discovery I had with the first book in this series. Unfortunately, you can really only discover something once and I didn’t get that “Look what I found!” feeling. Which is why I put it down for so long.
But I finally picked it back up to finish! I did indeed enjoy Valente’s second book and I do so enjoy her style – it is an old-fashioned style, slightly formal, that really adds to the magical feel of the book.
In the second book, September returns to Fairyland to find that the magic is all disappearing into Fairyland Below and it’s all due to actions she took in her last Fairyland adventure. Realizing this, the slightly-more-mature September takes off on a quest to right her wrongs. She heads down into Fairyland Below, which is populated by shadows who have left their people. She finds shadow-versions of everyone familiar – and yet, these shadow-versions are not familiar. She must draw on her strength, intelligence, bravery, and newfound adult compassion to ensure the survival of Fairyland.
As compared to the first book, I think I liked the characters less in this story. The story was, more so than the last time, a story about September helping herself find herself. She gets help from many characters throughout the story, but most of them are Merlin-type characters rather than her friends. I think I missed that interaction.
I did, however, really love September herself. September is growing up, and by doing so she is losing the heartlessness of childhood and learning to work with compassion and empathy. She’s still rather young – I believe she’s supposed to be a preteen in this book – so it doesn’t lose the feeling of a children’s book. Also, there’s a bit more attention paid to September’s life in the real world, which is nice. She’s living during WWI (or WWII? Sorry guys!), and her mom works in a factory while her dad is off fighting at the front. You can see how her life is affecting her, even while she’s in Fairyland. I liked Valente’s decision to age her rather than keeping her perpetually young. September remains one of my favorite child protagonists.
The plot was a tad bit confusing at times and could have been tightened up a tad. One or two things weren’t quite adequately explained to truly suit my need for understanding (but it is a fantasy book and that happens). However, it was very fun and well-paced. Excitement abounds and you’ll hold your breath with September as she struggles to complete her quest. It’s a great length, too; by the time it’s winding up, you’re exactly at the point where you want to see a happy ending.
The world of Fairyland is always great to visit and I like the Alice in Wonderland literal-ness that Valente invokes when creating it. Things are as a child thinks they should be there. World-building alone is a great reason to read this book, honestly. It’s such a fun and magical place to visit.
If you’re looking for a new fairy tale, a new children’s book, or if you’re a fan of magic, Lewis Carroll-style, I would definitely give this book a try! If you’re really into character relationships and more introspection than adventure, than, sadly, this may not be the book for you.