The sequel to the brilliant and beautiful Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland returns to September a year after her battle with the Marquess. She's beginning to wonder if it was all a dream after all when she spots a rowboat containing a woman all in silver and falls through a crack between the worlds, back into Fairyland.
But Fairyland, it turns out, is losing its shadows, and with them its magic. September must journey into Fairyland-Below to recover them from the clutches of Halloween, the Hollow Queen, September's own shadow which she traded away in exchange for the life of an unknown child. In true fairytale fashion, she encounters all kinds of strange and wonderful things along the way: a giant electric eel, a Goblin Market, a sleeping prince and a girl-shaped door.
There's very little I can say about The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland that I haven't already said about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. Valente's world is still utterly charming, full of wonders and wild magic and shadows, and her writing is still breathtakingly, heartbreakingly lovely:
A curious thing happened inside September, but she did not know its kind. Like a branch that seems one day to be bare and hard, and the next explodes with green buds and pink blossoms, her heart, which as we have said was very new and still growing, put out a long tendril of dark flowers. Hearts are such difficult creatures, which is why children are spared the trouble of them. But September was very nearly not a child anymore, and a heaviness pulled at her chest when she saw the poor shadow quivering with distress. Hearts set about finding other hearts the moment they are born, and between them, they weave nets so frightfully strong and tight that you end up bound forever in hopeless knots, even to the shadow of a beast you knew and loved long ago.
But it's dark, this book, and genuinely scary. The Sybil, with her flat face, is possibly one of the creepiest figures I've heard of (and that includes the Weeping Angels), and the Alleyman is like something out of a ghost story. Fairyland-Below is quite different to the world of Fairyland-Above; all that is murky and wild and malign falls into this world, where September's friends are literally shadows of themselves, and where even those you know cannot be trusted. There's betrayal here, and stolen kisses, and greed and selfishness and anger.
And if it does occasionally feel like Valente is a little heavy-handed with her moral - this is very clearly and explicitly a story about choice, about consent - well, you can't have everything. But you can have Fairyland: a place that reminds you that the world is indeed full of wonders, that magic does not have to end at adulthood.