The Boy Who Lost Fairyland - Catherynne M. Valente

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland - Ana Juan, Catherynne M. Valente

So this is the fourth in Valente's Fairyland series, and the story turns away from the adventures of September and her companions (the Marid Saturday and the Wyvern A-through-L) to take in Hawthorn, an infant troll swapped for a human child in order to, ha, troll humanity. The first half of the book, which sees Hawthorn (known in the human world as Thomas) navigating Chicago, a land as strange and wonderful to him as Fairyland's capital Pandemonium is to us, and dealing with his human father's disappointment in him as Not Normal, is clever and delightful and whimsical.


But it all goes a bit pear-shaped when he and his fellow Changeling Tamburlaine find their way back into Fairyland and meet an old autumnally-named friend of ours.


There are two reasons for this, I think.


The first is that the Fairyland half feels horribly rushed. On their arrival in Fairyland, round about page 200, Hawthorn and Tamburlaine are sent on a Quest by the King of the Fairies: Fairyland is falling apart because the Fairies (freed from their imprisonment by September at the end of the previous book) are all fucking horrible bastards not unlike Terry Pratchett's elves. We're told that Bad Things are happening to pretty much everyone, but no time is spent convincing the reader of this, and as a result it's difficult to invest in the fate of Fairyland. And, again, because there's simply no time to build up a decent storyline in the last half of the book, the many random and bizarre events which fill the other Fairyland books are all packed together and become not wonderfully whimsical and imaginative but annoyingly arbitrary and lacking any wider significance (which is decidedly not how fairy tales should work).


The second reason points to what I think is a wider problem with the series: the fact that it's a series at all. Much as I loved (genuinely loved) the world of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, I think much of that love was invested in a Fairyland which genuinely felt like the Fairyland that lives in my head: one that is wild and wonderful and full of the essence of all the fairy tales from childhood; one that can't be pinned down, where there are strange dark corners we never get to see. As the series goes on, though, we have to keep seeing more and more of Fairyland, and more and more rules for how it works have to get introduced so that the stories will work, and it becomes more and more described and suddenly it's no longer Archetypal Fairyland, the Childhood Fairyland that's familiar to everyone, but Just Another Fantasy World with passing reference to that shared cultural childhood. And I think the series reached that point two books ago, if not before. And that's a crying shame.