“A book is a door, you know. Always and forever. A book is a door into another place and another heart and another world.”
When Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There opens, it’s been one year since our heroine September first visited Fairyland, and her greatest wish now is to return. In this sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, her prayers are answered and she travels back to Fairyland, but does not find things exactly as she left them. In fact, she may even be responsible for what has been happening: someone has been stealing the shadows from the inhabitants of Fairyland, and the culprit is none other than September’s own shadow, who has named herself the Hollow Queen of Fairyland-Below! September’s quest is clear—travel to the underworld of Fairyland and fix the mess her shadow has made.
Beneath Fairyland picks up where the first book left off, and while the magic is still there, we’re invited into a much darker version of Fairyland, where the sky is lit only by stars hung from the ceiling. We meet different versions of familiar friends, as September encounters a number of shadows. Shadows, we learn, are made up of “all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts…hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms—and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too.” September doesn’t just meet her old friends—she meets their hidden and secret sides.
September has grown over the past year. She is now preoccupied with thoughts of what she wants to be when she grows up, and is dismayed to find that so many of her friends seem to have found their callings, while she still has no idea what she wants. Gone is the heartless child of the first Fairyland novel, because as September has grown into a young teenager, a heart “had begun to grow in her like a flower in the dark,” and we meet a September who is a bit more brave and passionate and kind than she had been before. She is no longer a child whisked away to Fairyland and thrown into a quest, but an experienced heroine with a growing sense of who she is and what she wants. She even has her first kiss in Fairyland-Below, though she is none too happy about it.
Catherynne Valente’s writing is as rich as ever, and she masterfully blends the tropes of fairy tales and myths into a layered and imaginative world that leaves you wanting to visit just as badly as September does. Beneath Fairyland sends September on a journey to the underworld to fix what she had accidentally broken, and not only tells a story about going to the dark places and not being afraid, but a story of what it means to grow up and to face your own shadow.
By Kelly J. Doran