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The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There: 09/28/12
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M Valente is the sequel to the similarly long-titled The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. It is also very much an homage to Dorothy's second trip to Oz (and the 4th book in the series), Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.
Whereas Alice first gets to fairyland through falling down an impossibly deep hole, Dorothy and September save this method of travel for their return trip. For Dorothy, it's a giant California earthquake (quite possibly the 1906 San Francisco quake). For September, the trip downwards takes the form of an elevator — but not with the underworld / Hades overtones as The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. So although September is essentially exploring / questing through the land below Fairyland, there still remains that odd combination of magic and technology (much in the way that the Land of Oz embraces and brings to life the commonplace technology of the early 1900s)
Dorothy's second journey to Oz is as unexpected as the first, but September goes willingly. She has been waiting anxiously for an entire year to return. Dorothy's time away from Oz is never fully outlined, but it was long enough for her and her aunt and uncle to travel to Australia (Oz of our world). It is on their landing in California for the trip home that she and her cousin, Zeb, are plummeted beneath Oz via the earthquake.
It is September's desire to revisit Fairyland and upon arrival, fix the broken pieces of it (caused, perhaps by her own hand) that sets her apart from either early Dorothy (before she campaigns to move herself and her family to Oz on a permanent basis) and Alice. Alice and Dorothy both focus on seeking a way home — even if for Alice she must be moved through the land like a pawn on a chessboard.
September has a greater sense of purpose and a stronger free will than her earlier fantasy counterparts. It is her strength of character that gives the Valente's Fairyland books an adult appeal to them, even though these darker themes will probably go over the heads of most of the series's younger readers. THIS IS A GOOD THING. The books will grow with their audience on subsequent re-reads.
I have been cagey about describing specific characters or specific scenes. I don't want to spoil anything. I also don't want to give false expectations. Yes — September's friends are there. But her visit isn't a rehash of her previous adventures (although a pair of crows do follow a familiar route). Instead, it's an exploration of uncharted (for us as readers) areas and the meeting of new characters. Without getting too spoilerly, let me just sign off by saying the last quarter of the book took my high expectations (which I'd felt had already been satisfactorily met), and thrown them out the window, resulting in many squeals of joy and thrusting of the ARC into the hands of kith and kin so that I'd have someone to talk about the book with.
I have, by the way, pre-ordered an audio copy of the book and will later buy a hardback copy so I can have all the glorious illustrations. The ARC I will continue to share with my book club friends.