Fiction Reviews

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland

(2015) Catherynne M. Valente, Corsair, £12.99, hrdbk, 235pp, ISBN 978-1-472-11927-8


“Glorious” says Neil Gaiman above the cover illustration.
“A mad, toothsome romp of a fairy tale” says Holly Black below the cover illustration.

And in between those quotes, the cover illustration by Ana Juan shows a boy wearing jeans and a jacket that he might have nicked from a Pearly King, brandishing something that looks like an ivory knitting-needle, but is more likely to be a wind, and he is wearing a hat that would not be out of place on an elf’s head, and in front of him is a scary-looking cat, like a rabid Bagpuss, who looks extremely pissed off, maybe because of the really bad jumper he’s been forced to wear –no wait, that’s his fur. No wonder he looks pissed off.

Before the book starts we get a cast list of the Dramatis Personae, even if some of these are not proper 'persons'. So the list starts with Hawthorn, a Troll, and The Red Wind, then a Harsh Wind, right the way down to Sarah Jane, a mechanic, Owen, her husband, and last, but not least, Margaret, an aunt. The book that follows consists of twenty chapters, the title of which gives a clue to what each contains, but in case you are not following things, each chapter heading has a little sub-description, so Chapter 1, 'Entrance on a Panther' then tells us : “In Which a Boy Named Hawthorn is Spirited off by Means of a Panther, Learns the Rules of the World, and Performs an Unlikely Feat of Gardening”, and just in case you still aren’t following things, each chapter has an illustration by Ana Juan, and for chapter one a gigantic cat’s head is lifting a boy out of his bed, sharp teeth stuck into the bottom of his pyjama trousers.

So starts, book four of the bestselling 'Fairyland' series. Up front, I have to confess, that I haven’t read the previous three, which, in this case, isn’t much of a problem in that the plot is not following the Alice-like adventures of Valente's major character 'September', who ended up in the fairy world having been taken from the human world. Here, we now have the flipside (or rather we are following Newton’s Third Law – that when a human child goes to Fairyland, thus a fairy creature must go to the human world), as a young Troll, Hawthorn is taken to the human world and grows up under the name Thomas Rood, someone who knows deep down that he is different, someone who doesn’t fit in, someone who thinks that everything should be alive and be able to talk, and even when it is not, and cannot, he still gives it a name anyway.

Thus, starts a quest, of sorts, as Hawthorn and his combat, wombat, Blunderbuss (who has her own humorous set of rules to live by) and his friend Tamburlain and Scratch, a pet gramophone, have to get back to Fairyland and encounter some familiar characters from the first three books in the series on their travels.

Here I go again banging on about that line in Amadeus about there being too many notes, or the jazz and classical compositions of Frank Zappa which are just too busy, but I did find the The Boy Who Lost Fairyland to be annoyingly over-written, and overly descriptive, and I know as I write this an angry mob of Valente fans are converging on my house and about to throw their burning torches through the downstairs windows.

Be warned, the book does race towards a (rather abrupt) cliff-hanger, which sets up the next Fairyland book, and I expect some constant readers will be counting the days until the appearance of the final book in the series: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland all the Way HomeThe Boy Who Lost Fairyland. I didn’t, but maybe if I started with book one, I might. Just excuse me while I go off to get a fire extinguisher.

Ian Hunter

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