As children, we play games, build new worlds, create roles for ourselves, and generally dream of the day that our imagination and all those stories of fairies and magic come true. I know that I am not the only 26-year-old who still secretly in my deepest of hearts hopes for the letter from Hogwarts notifying me of my acceptance. For September, the eponymous girl in Catherine M. Valente’s utterly charming and engrossing series on the political machinations of those ruling Fairyland, her imagination does come true, not once but twice (and apparently thrice judging by the new book to be released October 8: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon In Two.) This second installment of Valente’s series, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, is just as wonderful at the first. Though I don’t wish to reveal too much about the plot so as to not ruin this nor the first book for those who have not read it, the story revolved around September’s journey beneath Fairyland to Fairyland-Below where her shadow, Halloween, rules through fear, utilizing her henchman, The Alleyman, and lavish parties known as the Revels. September’s trusty sidekicks, Ell the Wyverary and Saturday the Marid, are along for the ride, or at least their shadows are, and we meet several new friends and old foes, including Aubergine the Quiet Physickist Do-Do bird.
There are two things in particular that I truly love about Valente’s Fairyland novels. First of all, the world building is superb. Fairyland functions as a patchwork of areas, knitted together through their magical natures. References to established stories and land like Narnia, Wonderland, and Middle-Earth, both sly and more open, abound, but the actual world is all Valente’s own creation. Each part that September and her merry band visit is entirely and randomly unique yet completely cohesive with the rest of the world of the first book. Fairyland and Fairyland-Below are not perfect, as September has learned, but they are so comprehensively realized that one wishes that one were in the world with September, that this world would become real for us, too. Additionally, the creatures of Valente’s Fairyland are so purposeful, creative, and specific, that you fall in love with them, whether they are good, bad, or somewhere in between. And I bet you would be hard-pressed not to find at least one creature that you personally identify with. (Just in case you were wondering, I hope I would be a Monaciello like Avogadra.)
The second thing that is so well done is that September’s adventures in Fairyland are really a way for her to filter, process, and understand growing up in her real world, but it is extremely subtle. September lives with her mother who is working in an airplane factory while her father is off fighting in the European theatre of World War II. The book begins with her mother making her a birthday cake with the rations of sugar and flour that she has saved for months. The danger to her father is always present in the background, but her mother tries to create as normal a life for September as possible, or as normal a life as it can be for a little girl who has saved Fairyland. Valente does not beat you over the head with the analogies but rather weaves them in quite subtly. It is really rather sophisticated, but then September is a rather sophisticated character in a way. These books are classified as children’s books, but, as I mentioned in my review of the first book, they operate at a higher level, one that works for both young and adult readers. Additionally, the final sentences of the novel offer one of the loveliest final images that I’ve read in quite a long time. I felt such a sense of profound satisfaction upon finishing the novel. It’s a series that I have no doubt I will read many times and one that I look forward to sharing with my own future children, hopeful that they will be as enchanted as I. This was definitely an excellent follow-up, and I eagerly await the next installment.