My rating: 4 of 5 stars
September is one year older, somewhat less heartless and definitely ready to go back to Fairyland and have a proper Adventure. Things however have changed a lot since she left: magic is leaving Fairyland along with its shadows, all because of Halloween, the Hollow Queen of Fairyland Below – her own shadow.
Once again, it’s up to September to travel down the depths of the earth and try to fix the problem before it’s too late.
This is a beautiful book. Valente’s imagination is on fire as usual, delighting us with wonderful new creatures and characters, and returning old ones with a twist. Fairyland Below really feels like its own place and not just a shadow or a bad copy of the world above, though it still retains the characteristic traits that mark it as a part of Fairyland.
I can’t however give the book a full five stars because its main strength is also what made the book slightly unsettling for me: this is a book of not-quite-shadows, not-exactly reflections. We meet Saturday and Ell’s shadows, who still love September but do not respect her the same way. We meet Halloween, who is quite a lot like September and at the same time isn’t. And September herself is a lot more impatient and snappy than the cautious and bewildered girl who set off to retrieve a Spoon.
While the part in Fairyland Above feels like a direct continuation of the first book, the story, the world, and the characters take a turn for the dark -literally and metaphorically- as soon as September crosses the Sybil’s door into the underworld. There is always a lingering sense of menace, friends are not as trustworthy, and even the wonders and the magic do not feel quite as fun.
In a way, The girl who fell… sometimes feels more like a sequel to Valente’s own The Labyrinth.
I also have a slight reservation about the ending. Maybe it will grow on me on a second read, but (view spoiler)[shadow-Ell and shadow-Saturday were such magnificent assholes that I couldn’t really come to feel their plight when September was about to use the Rivet gun. The Sameness Engine too feels a bit of a deus ex machina, compared to how much the wrench and the spoon and the jacket and the key were fundamental to the plot of the first book. (hide spoiler)]
But do not be dissuaded, gentle reader. This is still a wonderful book and well worth every minute. Even more, it’s a sequel that stands on its own and not just as part of an ongoing series.