Grammar enthusiast. Cat lover. Illustrator. Slytherin. Loki's Army. Spending a lot of time reading the world. And fanfiction. .
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This book is utter nonsense… you’re going to love it.
Let me first say that Catherynne Valente has more imagination in one fingernail than most people do in their whole body. You can just imagine her as a hyperactive, hyper-creative kid who’s just seen Fairyland and wants to tell you all about it and she can’t wait for even one minute, no she can’t. It’s the sheer volume of words and references and, frequently, nonsense that hurtles at you like the cascade of a waterfall that you couldn’t stem if you jammed all your arms and legs into it.
At the start it feels a lot like that – that is, overwhelming and a bit like paddling against a commanding torrent of colours and lovely words and fantastic items that leaves you with very little room to breathe, much less grab hold of a tree branch for long enough to get your bearings. (The branch would probably turn out to be a boa constrictor, anyway.) But after a chapter or so you get into the swing of things, pick up a few native words and shrug on an ethnic jacket; you learn how to salmon upstream. And it’s easy, mad riding the rest of the way.
The story begins when a young troll by the name of Hawthorn is spirited away by the Red Wind and her Panther of Rough Storms and sent into the human world as a Changeling – an out-of-place little mischievous creature that is, for all intents and purposes, anarchy incarnate.
But of course, this isn’t actually where the story begins.
The Boy Who Lost Fairyland is the fourth in the Fairyland series and, while it can stand independently, much like a small child, it would be much better off being supported on one side or the other by its mum or one of its older siblings. That is to say: alone it is very good, but in line with its forerunners it would be glorious. I say this having not read the others, mind – it’s just that, towards the end of the book in particular, characters from the other books are mentioned and I think you’d enjoy these mentionings more if you had the faintest idea of who they were on about. The beginning of the book, too, launches confidently into an assertive stride and you can immediately feel the presence of the narrative stepping stones that led to this one.
After Hawthorn is recast as a small human child, he is completely and utterly confused and crestfallen. The oven and the chandelier won’t speak to him, his mother (who is clearly a witch) makes him toys that won’t come alive, try as Hawthorn might, and his father is quick to point out that he isn’t normal. But life must go on and our small troll with it, and so Hawthorn grows into a human boy: Thomas Rood. Along the way are the hurdles of school and other kids and being normal, and Thomas must do his best to fit in even as he forgets all about his real heritage. That is, until one day, when a carefully orchestrated (and not entirely normal) accident changes everything and stirs awake the troll deep inside…
Thomas did not have any clear idea what Normal meant, except that it was something Gwendolyn and Nicholas were, and Mysterious Unnamed Other Children were, and possibly Grocers and Teachers and Street Sweepers as well, but that Thomas was not. Despite the awful hurt that capital N did to his raw, naked heart, Thomas was still a little boy – at least, mostly a little boy – and he did not like his father to be sour. He began to collect Normals, so that he could identify them on sight.
The book is absolutely wonderful and incredibly creative, entirely comfortable in its well-worn fantastical shoes. It also often reminded me of Dianna Wynne Jones’s work (which is a great compliment as she is one of my favourite writers) in the way that it followed its protagonist around and, again, in the cameos of old favourites towards the end of the book, much like Howl’s resurgence in Castle in the Air (and I shan’t say more about that, only that you must read Howl’s Moving Castle if you haven’t already!). Another similarity is the use of illustrations and a brief summary of the upcoming adventure at the head of each chapter in the form of, for example, ‘Chapter 1: Entrance, on a Panther. 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’ – a style that I absolutely adore.
The Boy Who Lost Fairyland is an extraordinarily fantastic book, rivalling Alice in Wonderland in nonsensicality and Howl’s Moving Castle in poise; get this book if you are a fan of either. Perfect for humans, trolls and fetches of all ages (ok, maybe ten and up, give or take). I will be picking up The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, the first in the Fairyland series, sometime rather shortly.
I was sent an ARC copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.