September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows—and their magic—to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back.
Fans of Valente’s bestselling, first Fairyland book will revel in the lush setting, characters, and language of September’s journey, all brought to life by fine artist Ana Juan. Readers will also welcome back good friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. But in Fairyland Below, even the best of friends aren’t always what they seem... -Plot summary borrowed from Amazon
I don't think I can overstate how utterly and madly I love this series. It's like going home. It's like reading a book in a dream that is so exactly what I long for in a book that it couldn't possibly exist upon waking. It just needs need to be read.
It's been almost a year since September's first adventure in Fairyland, and she's a bit more grown up in this one- the action begins on her thirteenth birthday. Much was made in the first book about children being heartless:
"All children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All."
This time around September has definitely begun to grow into her heart, and compassion, sympathy, love, betrayal, and forgiveness are major themes for our heroine to contend with. That being said, while September has matured in some ways and much of the novel is pretty dark both literally and figuratively, the novel itself is seems just a bit more whimsical than its predecessor, more Phantom Tollbooth and less "through a glass darkly." (On a third hand, Valente makes no bones about the fact that these books are partially spiritual sequels to Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass respectively, so there are lots of satisfying references to chess, queens, knights, mirror images and so forth this time around).
There are new companions and old friends, riddles to solve, glorious puns, and prose you just want to roll around in to soak up all the lovely imagery. It's hard for sequels to match up to the first in a series, especially ones so beloved by many, but I think Valente has done an excellent job of expanding her world and allowing her protagonist to grow and explore while still making the reader feel at home.