The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There takes a bit of a darker turn than the first Fairyland instalment. When September returns to Fairyland she discovers that the shadows of its occupants are being sucked down into Fairyland-Below by the Alleyman, where they are ruled by her own shadow, Queen Halloween. (In the first book, September gave her shadow to the Glashtyn in order to save a young Pooka girl). September thinks she has found her friends, Ell and Saturday, but it turns out to be their shadows instead. The shadows show a very different side to her friends, but they are rejoicing at finally being able to live their own lives and don’t want to be reunited with their sturdy counterparts. The only downside to this is that the shadows are taking their magic with them to Fairyland-Below, which means that magic is draining away from Fairyland proper. September has to find a way to solve this problem, while none of the shadows want it to be solved.
Once again, we are introduced to a vast array of strange and mysterious creatures. September finds herself the guardian of a young Night-Dodo named Aubergine, a sweet and timid creature who is a quiet physickist and becomes invisible if she stands still for long enough. She is briefly reunited with Gleam, who is working as a conductor for a weeping eel (an electric eel who acts as a cross between a train and a boat, and whose tears create the path he follows) by the name of Bertram. There are Hreinn, who are like deer but can remove and hide their skins so that men (‘hunters’) won’t ransom the skins in return for marriage; Järlhopp, large blue kangaroos who mine for precious stones which they attach to memories and wear around their necks to stop them forgetting important parts of their lives; Minotaurs, Goblins, and a Watchful Dress which has a mind of its own and changes its size and shape to whatever is most useful at the time.
As I said, it’s a darker book, but it’s also a bit sadder. Although September spends a large portion of the book with the shadows of Ell and Saturday, she barely gets to see the ‘real’ versions of her friends before she is whisked back to Nebraska, and she misses them throughout. The shadows themselves are much less kindly, and even throw her into the Forgetful Sea in the hope that she’ll forget about her idea to rejoin the shadows. The Alleyman comes across as a fairly sad character, even before we discover who he really is (another big reveal that I didn’t see coming), and there’s the sense that there will still be a sadness to September’s life even after she’s returned home.
The plot itself also seems to get a lot more muddled as the book progresses. At times I found myself getting confused about exactly where September was going and why – was she trying to find Halloween, or the Sleeping Prince? And why exactly was she trying to find either of them? Maybe the muddling was a deliberate plot point based on the fact that September was supposedly working her way through a labyrinth without realising it, but I definitely got lost along the way. I was never really sure what her objective was, and how whatever she was planning to do was going to aid the overall objective. It was a fun read and I enjoyed all the new characters and places that were explored along the way, but I did find it hard to keep up.
I did really enjoy this story, but for me it’s not quite as strong as The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I think that will probably always be my favourite of the series, just because it was my introduction to the world of Fairyland and it certainly set the bar high. This second instalment was equally entertaining, albeit a bit more serious in places, but I did feel it got a bit overcomplicated at times. Still, Catherynne M. Valente certainly can’t be faulted in terms of her endless imagination. I did occasionally feel that she had a new character to show off, and so had to invent a detour or scenario to accommodate it though. It sometimes felt like the book didn’t flow as well as the first, and that some characters (while fantastical and wonderful) were perhaps included purely so that they could be read about somewhere, rather than because they furthered the plot in any way. Still, it’s a brilliant romp through a world that I’ve grown to love, and I would definitely recommend giving it a go.