You know when a favourite author releases a new short story or novella or even a single damned scene that involves a minor character from a favourite series and you just start squealing all over the place?
Yeah, this was that. Only the series isn’t over yet.
What blows my mind is that Catherynne M Valente somehow managed to convince her editors, publishers, and everyone else involved in creating a book that writing a Fairyland book not about September was going to work.
I imagine the conversation happening in some office somewhere where all of the publishing house staff come together and form an intervention. They sit down around Valente, and very calmly, ask her if she has LOST HER GODDAMNED MIND? ARE YOU KIDDING? THIS BOOK WON’T SELL. WE NEED MORE SEPTEMBER. Valente then smiles and says to them”No. You’ll publish this” and sashays away.
I mean, that’s probably not how it went down. But that’s just how I picture it. Because Valente takes a lot of risks in her work, but they absolutely always pay off.
As you have probably already guessed, if not from my tirade, then by the title of this post, this particular book in the Fairyland series does not follow September. Instead, it follows a Changeling called Hawthorn, and what his life is like before he finds his way back home to Fairyland.
I think Valente just understands what it’s like to be young and not feel right in your own skin. She perfectly captures every awkward feeling you’ve ever had, whether it was when you were surrounded by the “normal” kids at school, or somehow not being able to find your niche in the office. Somehow, Valente makes a Changeling who is actually a troll in children’s clothing feel as relatable as anyone in any teen drama you’ve ever watched.
What broke my heart, though, is that Hawthorn (when he was Thomas in the human world) tried so hard to fit in because he desperately wanted to make his parents happy. He wrote down the odd rules of humanity in his notebook, Inspector Balloon, and tried to follow them to the best of his ability so that his father would stop comparing him to the other kids.
The main reason that this broke my heart is that there are so many people who are just as dazed by the rules of society in our very own reality. And to read about Hawthorn’s struggles made me feel as though I was reading about someone’s real life struggle with understanding the world around them.
Valente’s books, while sublime and wacky and whimsical and heart-wrenching in the extreme, are about so much more than their plots. She has just an incredible way with mood. And not many authors can get mood right, let me tell you.
It’s the feeling of these books that stays with me, long after the plot has been resolved. (Which is why I never talk about the plot, pretty much. It’s not the most important part of these books. More like the delectable icing on top of a delicious cupcake).