For the dedicated Fairyland reader, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland is a bit of a startling departure. Aside from our dear narrator, the cast is entirely new for most of the book. That is not to say that the cast is not delightful, but they’re not the dear September and her wyverary who we’ve spent three books coming to care very deeply about. For much of the book, it’s unclear how this story connects to September’s. In fact, the connection of the titular boy’s story to September’s is the purpose of the novel.
The concept is an interesting one. After following September, taken away to Fairyland from the human world, we now travel with a young troll named Hawthorn to the human world. It turns out that these two worlds are driven by Newton’s Third Law, so for every human child taken to Fairyland, a Fairy creature must be sent to the human world. These creatures take the place of the human child.
Hawthorn’s young life with human parents is a rather sad tale, one that can parallel the experience of anyone who feels different. He doesn’t feel like he fits in his own skin for one thing, even though he no longer remembers who or what he was by the time he would be old enough to truly understand it. Worse, he doesn’t understand a lot of common assumptions human society makes and deems common sense, such as:
"If you smile, people smile back and usually start liking you. If you scowl, they scowl back and start unliking you. This is true even though smiling means showing your sharp teeth and even though you can smile at the same time as being angry or sad, so I don’t see why people should want you to do it so much, but they do."
Hawthorn, now known as Thomas Rood even to himself, has trouble understanding these things. He believes that every thing should be alive, from the family oven to his pencil. It saddens him that they’re not, but he names them all anyway. For what is seen as an overly active imagination, he is shamed and judged by his parents. The main lesson of his young childhood is that he should hide beneath a facade of normalcy, something I believe most kids can relate to.
Things take a turn for the better when he wins over the kids at school with his unique vision of the world. They’re charmed and amused, showing how much better children are at dealing with imagination and why it’s kids that can travel to Fairyland. They find nothing strange in the idea that a desk might think and one day even talk.
The true beauty in this series for me remains in the magic of the writing and the world building. Valente is a master wordsmith. She balances classical, ornate language with a modern, lively feel so well. This is one of those books where I highlight bunches of quotes, because so much of what she has written is clever wordplay, impossibly brilliant, or both things at once.
Though The Boy Who Lost Fairyland may be my least favorite of the series, it is still impossibly beautiful. Valente’s Fairyland books are not to be missed. They are triumphs of the imagination.