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: 

Quick Review: Indie Fantasy

I read two indie fantasy novels that recently caught my eyes in the blogsophere. I don’t usually read these sorts of stories, but the premises, reviews and bargain prices of these two prompted me to have a go.

 

  • The Word Changers by Ashlee Willis
    • Rating: ★★½ [ratings guide]
    • Cute premise – what avid reader doesn’t love the idea of entering a book?
    • I thought Posy and Kyran were cute, although if I looked at that relationship at all closely I might find it’s built on pretty loose foundations.
    • Posy (despite her name) felt very realistic and relatable. There were a number of passages where I thought “Yup, that’s a real world accurate feeling you don’t usually read about in a book!”
    •  I liked the mermaids…I think I always like mermaids.
    • Overall, a cute story written in basic prose and featuring largely plain characters. Inoffensive Christian themes are apparent but don’t distract from the story (unlike that final Narnia book…)
  • The Reflections of Queen Snow White by David Meredith
    • Rating: ★ [ratings guide]
    • Good idea, poor execution. The main thrust of the story seems to be Snow White realizing she’s strong even without Prince Charming, but I certainly didn’t see that. Every example given, I thought “What? That actually proves how dependent she was!”
    • Why was there no discussion of the evil queen’s disposal? This seems like an event that would make a significant impression on Snow.
    • Hrm, this felt like a story trying to be a ‘grown up’ book. There’s torture and sex, but the writing is not really great. I wasn’t moved by those scenes; they just felt a bit awkward. I think the story could give depression a bad rep because it doesn’t really go beyond the surface of Snow’s “I’m so lost without Charming, I can’t function without him”. I can certainly accept that Snow White would become depressed after her beloved husband’s death, but this book doesn’t really sell me that.

Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine


Author: Genevieve Valentine
Title: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
Format/Source: eBook/ARC
Published: June 2014
Publisher: Atria Books
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Fairy tale reworking/fiction
Why I Read: 12 Dancing Princesses +Roaring Twenties!
Read If You’re: Interested in fairy tales or sister relationships
Rating:  ★★★ [ratings guide]
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Book Depository

In The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine sets the fairy tale of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” in New York during the 1920s. The titular girls are twelve daughters of an awful man who wishes only to rise up in New York society. He keeps the girls locked up in the house, hiding the reminders of his wife’s failure to produce a son. He communicates only rarely with Jo, the eldest daughter, who is in charge of her sisters and organizes the nightly dancing. Her sisters call her the General for her controlling, cold behaviour. The father decides it’s the time the girls were married off, and this is where the story kicks off. The narrative is told in third-person, primarily from the perspective of Jo.

I was initially apprehensive towards the style, as it’s not the kind I’m used to. It felt odd to me – choppy, sparse description, lots of parentheses – but I came to appreciate it once I settled into the rhythm. I do like the use of bracketed asides. At first I thought there were too many, but they level out and Valentine nearly always uses them to strong effect (to convey character, share a snippy piece of dialogue, etc.). The prose is very bare, focusing on the characters and their actions, their thoughts conveyed as part of their behaviour. In this manner the book feels like a fairy tale, which often just relay the action of the story. This is not a criticism – I liked that the story, despite being a novel and a modern reworking, still felt like a fairy tale due to its style and plot. There were lots of bits of prose where I thought “That’s a great line!”, and I enjoyed reading about the sisters’ interactions (how they act with each other, how they act with the men with whom they dance).

However, the bare prose was cause for disappointment in another area. I was expecting a story where the era was as much of a character as the girls. This is not the case. It felt like the twenties were used as a setting just to give the girls a reason to go out dancing every night, although the decade is crucial to the plot beyond this. For me, the story didn’t truly feel as though it was set in the twenties, despite the use of keywords such as bob-haired, Charleston, and feather headbands. Perhaps the sense of being set in the twenties conflicts with the sense of the story being a fairy tale. I just didn’t feel it.

I was prepared to embrace this book, as it has all the elements of a story I love. But something kept me from becoming completely enthralled. I didn’t feel pulled towards the story, though I didn’t ever feel like I should stop reading. Perhaps it’s the focalization of the story through Jo, who I never felt connected with, though I understood and sympathized with her actions. Or maybe it’s that the prose style, which I admired from a technical point of view, didn’t resonate with me emotionally. It could be that I never felt the twenties vibe which I was looking forward to. Whatever it was, something prevented this story from resonating with me. But, I liked reading this book. I don’t think it’s a bad book. Perhaps another reader might be able to connect with it.

The Bottom Line: Something prevented me from deeply enjoying this book, though I can’t quite pinpoint why. However, it was an enjoyable read. Don’t read it because it’s set in the Roaring Twenties or because you’re looking for a deep story to connect with – read it because you love a fairy tale.