Katabasis is the Greek word for descent, often associated with sojourns in the Underworld. It’s the “biggest” word to be found in Catherynne M. Valente’s “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There,” but it’s hardly the only one that will tax young readers. I say: “Good.” I say young readers should get a dictionary.
The sequel to “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland” finds young September a little more grown, a little more uncertain in her actions (a heart has appeared at the core of her being.) She returns to Fairyland to find that her friends’ shadows are being sucked into Fairyland-Below. Katabasis Time! Accompanied by the shadows of A-Through-L, (the Wyverary), and Saturday, (the Marid), September travels deep into this Underworld, where her own shadow, the Hollow Queen, is creating trouble. Or is she? As in the first book, the motivations of the “bad guys” are not always what they appear to be. Indeed “bad guys” are not of particular interest to a series this mature. The focus is less on conflict than on the succession of wondrous creatures.
Once more, Ana Juan’s excellent illustrations fix the look of Fairyland in our heads. If there’s any nit-picking to be done, surely it’s with the occasional didactic intrusion. It’s too Victorian an affectation. The Fairyland series is too strong to need that kind of linguistic tether to J. M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll. I’m actually looking forward to Valente’s adult work more than I am to part 3 of this series. I want to see what she does without the Oz/Wonderland/Neverland constraints, because the display of imagination here is extraordinarily rich. Almost excessively so: the characters crowd for our attention, from Aubergine the Dodo to the Duke of Teatime and the Vicereine of Coffee and Belinda Cabbage. It’s harder to love a crowd than it is to love a couple of friends, which is why this book is a small notch below the first.
RATING : COOL!
Ana Juan’s art site has samples from her non-Fairyland work. She’s an astonishing, instantly recognizable Spanish illustrator.