Review: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Title: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland
Series: Fairyland #4
Format/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: March 2015
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Length: 235 pages
Genre: Middle grade fantasy/fairy tale
Why I Read: Love the series
Read If You’re: Liked book #1 or #2 but weren’t so enchanted by book #3
Rating:  ★★★★½ [ratings guide]
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon
Fairyland Book #3 disappointed me. I can’t recall exactly why (I didn’t review it, I didn’t remember the cliffhanger), though I can probably sum up my disappointment with “didn’t contain that wondrous magic of the first book”, especially concerning the plot (granted, to expect the sequels to match the originality of the first book is to expect the impossible – only once can you be introduced to September and Fairyland). The Boy Who Lost Fairyland refreshed my interest in this series with a delightful tale concerning Changelings.

September serves as an excellent guide through Fairyland. Valente’s decision to instead feature Hawthorn, a Changeling troll, and set a good chunk of the tale in Chicago may at first seem like an unnecessary stirring up of a winning formula – but it works. I found September’s adventures beginning to stale in the third book. With this book, I enjoyed meeting new characters who blossom throughout the story. Hawthorn will likely appeal to anyone who enjoyed September’s company. A break from September also makes me more excited to see her return to prominence in the final book.

 But this child knew very well that he was called Hawthorn and not Thomas, and was a troll on the inside, not a baby human. It was only that he could not tell anyone – his human mouth was so small and soft! He could not make any words come out of it at all. When he finally managed it, they were just the simplest and plainest ones, none of which were big enough to hold his trollness, or that he had once spoken to a giant Panther, or the wonderful, terrible, burning flight through the clouds. (39)

I did not expect so much of the story to be set in our world. This setting allows Valente to explore more realistic challenges that many young children face, most prominently that out-of-place feeling. I liked the Changeling perspective, showing a view of both our world and Fairyland that differs from September’s.

“The Laws of the Kingdom of School,” he squeaked. “One: A Teacher is the same thing as an Empress only a Teacher wears skirts and uses a ruler instead of a sceptre. Two: Be present at eight o’clock sharp or you will be marked Tardy and if you are Tardy enough you will be banished to the Land of Detention, where no food or joy can live. Three: If you write that you shall not do a thing five hundred times you cannot do it again for your whole life. Only Teachers possess this magic, as Mother and Father have never tried it[…]” (73)

While each of the previous books build on its predecessor, this book pulls together a variety of events and hints from the three other books. I recommend a reread if it’s been awhile. I struggled to recall the significance of some of the characters and happenings in the later half of this book.

I don’t think I need to comment much on the prose, save to reassure you that you’re getting the same lyrical goodness of the other Fairyland books!

And indeed, in the rippling red clouds above everything, a great number of treetops began to peek out. They were all very tall and very lush: great umbrellas of glossy leaves, lacy branches twisting and toppling together, cupolas of orange and fuchsia flowers, obelisks of braided beanstalks, huge domes like the ones Hawthorn had seen in his picture book about Pandemonium, but made of climbing roses and hanging babanas and iridescent turquoise bubbles that would not pop, even when they tumbled into thorns. Just the sort of place where the wind stills, grows sleepy, turns around in a few lazy circles, and settles down for a nap in a sunbeam. Everything was hot and wet and alive, like the inside of a summer raindrop. (9)

The Bottom Line: Although I love September, a change in protagonist renewed my excitement in this series. Valente maintains her charming story-telling while giving a fresh perspective of Fairyland.

Further Reading: