I drew it out as long as humanly possible, I really did. Any new Cat Valente novel is like Christmas to me, and the only reason I gave in and finished this book (at 4 in the morning, mind you) is the knowledge that two new Valente books will arrive in my mailbox sometime this year. Thanks, Cat, for being prolific and brilliant and full of magic.
Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2015
Hardcover: 256 pages
Series: Fairyland #4
My rating: 8,5/10
First sentence: Once upon a time, a troll named Hawthorn lived very happily indeed in his mother’s house, where he juggled the same green and violet gemstones and matching queens’ crowns every day, slept on the same weather-beaten stone, and played with the same huge and cantankerous toad.
When a young troll named Hawthorn is stolen from Fairyland by the Golden Wind, he becomes a changeling – a human boy – in the strange city of Chicago, a place no less bizarre and magical than Fairyland when seen through trollish eyes. Left with a human family, Hawthorn struggles with his troll nature and his changeling fate. But when he turns twelve, he stumbles upon a way back home, to a Fairyland much changed from the one he remembers. Hawthorn finds himself at the center of a changeling revolution–until he comes face to face with a beautiful young Scientiste with very big, very red assistant.
What? A Fairyland book without September? Or at least, mostly without September – if you’d told me that I would come to love a book that doesn’t feature all my favorite characters from the series, I would have laughed at you. No matter how great Valente is, I expected this to be the black sheep of the series, the least favorite child, the book I loved slightly less than the others. But Valente highlights her talent by making me love Hawthorn, Tamburlaine, Blunderbuss, and Scratch just as much as I do September and her friends.
Hawthorn is a troll. The Red Wind whisks him away (what’s with those winds?) and sends him – now a Changeling – into the human world where he has to learn the rules of Being Normal. These first chapters are especially heartbreaking to read when you know (or were yourself) a child with “too much” imagination, a child who is constantly reminded by adults that Life is Serious Business and that inanimate objects don’t talk and don’t have names. Hawthorn, now called Thomas Rood, struggles with the strange rules of Chicago, the Kingdom of School, and with the other kids who seem to do Normal so effortlessly. Hawthorn’s Rulebook is one of the most original, heartbreaking, beautiful, and accurate things I have read in a long time.
Fore more than half the novel, we don’t get to see September at all, but we do meet new characters. Tamburlaine stole my heart within minutes, and Scratch the grammophone is adorableness personified. If, after reading this book, you don’t feel an urge to learn to knit and make yourself a woolly wombat, you missed how awesome Blunderbuss is. Instead of a book spent missing September, Ell, and Saturday, I got a whole new cast of lovable characters who live through a particularly evil version of hell. School is fun for very few people but when you know you don’t belong because, deep down, you know you are different, everyday school problems get magnified by a gazillion.
But this wouldn’t be a Fairyland book if we didn’t go to visit Fairyland. We meet actual fairy queens, King Crunchcrab (who’s tired of kinging) and some old friends. The ending was a bit rushed. After so much careful build-up, slowly introducing Hawthorn and Tamburlaine and an unruly baseball, the end offered an action-packed but rather abrupt stop – although it does leave us with an interesting cliffhanger that opens up all sorts of cool ideas for the next book.
It also wouldn’t be a Valente book if it weren’t full of beautiful quotes. Her lyrical language turns mundane objects into adventures, a school building into a kingdom, and teachers into evil dictators. Her words aren’t just words, they paint pictures, they carry scents and sounds, they remind me why I love reading so much.
Sometimes, magic is like that. It lands on your head like a piano, a stupid, ancient, unfunny joke, and you spend the rest of your life picking sharps and flats out of your hair.
Or take this set of Blunderbuss’ wombat rules. It is very much like Hawthorn’s rules for the Kingdom of School, but Blunderbuss being a combat wombat (just hold on a moment and take in how cool that is!), there is plenty of humor whenever she speaks. I loved her to bits.
Look Both Ways Before Crossing a Wombat Bigger Than You. If You Find Mangoes, Make a Whistle Through Your Teeth So We All Can Have Some, Too. All Wombats Are Created Equal, Except for Gregory. No Wombat Shall Be Enslaved, Left Behind, Abandoned, or Unloved. Not Even Gregory. […]
I never did figure out what’s the matter with Gregory but something entirely different is revealed in this fourth Fairyland book. We find out who the narrator of these stories is, and I absolutely loved it. This is going to have interesting consequences for the final volume and gives me hope that our world is a little more magical than we first thought.
Considering that this book clearly sets up the grand finale – The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home – it was superbly done, without any of the set-up-novel mistakes many other series make. It isn’t only there to set up later events. Instead, we get a fine story that can stand on its own two legs but that’s also a puzzle piece in the bigger story. Now I can’t wait to find out how it all ends, even as I look to the final book with dread.
MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Excellent!