I want to review Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. Really, I do. But all my objectivity and good sentence structures have disappeared down the velvet-lined rabbit hole that leads to Fairyland. I have nothing left but simpering sentiment and the ickiest, most unreadable kind of fawning.
I think I can summarize the plot without too much goo, though. In the first book of the series, twelve year old September was whisked away from Nebraska by the Green Wind to have high adventures in Fairyland. In the process, she bartered away her own shadow. In The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland, September is thirteen. She returns to Fairyland only to find that her shadow (which is a version of herself that is wilder, darker, and more selfish) has fallen into Fairyland-Below and begun to cause a great deal of trouble.
To summarize my feelings: It’s even better than The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. It’s the dark, teenage cousin of that book, with more emotion and less whimsy, and a lot more originality. There’s many more surprises waiting to leap out from behind plot-corners, and September herself has more emotional heft to her. And here’s a list of reasons you should read these books, if you’ve ever read a story about little girls going to Fairyland. It’s even backed up with Textual Evidence:
1. Because I’ve never read a better description of teenagehood than this. In the last book, September was Heartless, as all children are, and was able to walk into dangerous and harrowing situations with the fearlessness of a child. But now:
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. And so we may say now, as we could not before, that September’s heart squeezed, for it had begun to grow in her like a flower in the dark. We may also take a moment to feel a little sorry for her, for having a heart leads to the peculiar griefs of the grown.
2. I like Fairyland-Below rather better than Fairyland. It’s darker, wilder, not quite as adorable. It can be described thusly:
“Ever seen a mushroom?” Ell said, flexing his shadowy claws.
“No, you haven’t. You’ve seen a little polka-dotted cap or an oystery bit of fungusy lace. What a mushroom is, what it really looks like, is a whole mad tangle of stuff spreading underground for miles and miles, tendrils and whorls and loops of stem and mold and spore. Well, Fairyland-Below isn’t separate from Fairyland at all. It is our cap. Underneath, we grow forever secretly outward, tangling in complicated loops, while what you see in the forest is really little more than a nose poking out.”
3. Because everyone has a shadow, really. September encounters her own shadow, along with the shadows of her dearest friends, and is surprised to find that they act completely differently than their light counterparts:
She did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of the world and of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms—and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too—end up in their shadow.
4. Because there are Physickists who study Questing in Fairyland-Below, who describe their academic work:
We seek out Quest-Dense Zones and hope in with both feet. We Experiment. We Prove. Mersenne has gone off into the Jargoon Mountains to work on his thesis, investigating the spiritual connection between gradons and maidens. Candella last reported from the bottom of Blackdamp Lake, conducting experiments on free-range treasure. Red Newton wholly devoted himself to the study of magic apples, immortality causing and otherwise…It is my dearest hope that one day I shall be the one to discover the GUT—Grand Unified Tale, the one which will bind together all our Theorems and Laws, leaving out not one Orphan Girl or Youngest Son or Cup of Life and Death. Not one Ascent or Descent, not one Riddle or Puzzle or Trick. One perfect golden map that can guide any soul to its desire and back again.
Read it. If you don’t trust my judgment anymore (I wouldn’t), go read The Book Smugglers’ much more lucid review. Or the one at Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Reviews. Good, solid, feet-on-the-ground types of reviews that tell you I’m telling the absolute truth.