As it has become customary in Valente's Fairyland books, this one is made of wistful melancholy and whimsical sadness dressed up as children's story.
“Temptation likes best those who think they have a natural immunity, for it may laugh all the harder when they succumb.”
Temptation to make things better can lead you down a dangerous road, and having a pure and practical heart thirsty for knowledge and peace is not always the shield from badness. The big fat cat of History preys on hearts just like this. And you can say all you want: "I do not want to muddle about with Politicks, and whenever two Folk of any sort are in a room together there are always Politicks to be muddled in," but your wishes do not command History. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say, and here we get to see the beginnings of this path.
This is a very short (actually, painfully short because, if you are a Fairyland books fan you will want it to go on for much much longer) story about how the villain of the first Fairyland story took the journey to become no longer Mallow but Marquess. In short, it's the book "In which a young girl named Mallow leaves the country for the city, meets a number of Winds, Cats, and handsome folk, sees something dreadful, and engages, much against her will, in Politicks of the most muddled kind."
You don't even need the wistfulness to know that Mallow's actions, despite her kind and practical nature, will lead down the slippery slope. Your goal may be simply to fix what's broken, to make sure that the badness does not happen again - but power corrupts, and temptations based on the belief that you know what's better for everyone are strong, and your deepest desires may prove to be ultimately the darkest. What's best for you may not be that for everyone. And Mallow will make mistakes in her quest to fix things, mistakes based on best of intentions, the results of which you only know if you have already read the first Fairyland book.
"Mallow was not like the other creatures in Fairyland. She had used her magic to make a pleasant life for herself, where she could be alone as she preferred, and where nothing would disturb or hurt her if she did not want to be disturbed or hurt. This was important to her, for she wished to be safe, and she wished to live in a kind world, which on the best of days Fairyland could only manage for an hour or two before getting bored and playing a trick on a maiden or nine."
Billed as a prequel to the Fairyland books, this one should really be read only after The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland... to fully appreciate the little Easter Eggs for fans of that book - because, truly, this is what it is. The Green Wind story, Iago the Cat, and "a sweet young Wyvern who confessed with a blush to her spring-green scales that she had, of late, become betrothed to an eligible young Library" will be heartwarming to those already familiar with this world.
'I am a practical girl, and a life is only so long. It should be spent in as much peace and good eating and good reading as possible and no undue excitement. That is all I am after.'
Poor thing has had troubles in her youth. She only wanted a gentle, slow sort of living from then till forever."
And having seen what Mallow's rule ultimately brought Fairyland, you cannot help but wistfully sigh seeing the intentions and the motivations behind what's to come. Sometimes we may love something so much that we want to guard it from all that is evil and love and cherish it - but in good-intentioned overbearing we can suffocate and destroy it. Love and caring does not always will you points with History, and that is what we know is in store for Mallow and Fairyland, once Mallow unexpectedly finds herself in charge of carrying for the land being destroyed by her cruel predecessor.
"I have never lost a love and I do not intend to. One can only lose love if one is careless, and I am never careless. You might say, really, that of anything I am best at caring, at paying close attention and minding what I’ve got."
If you haven't read the first Fairyland book, you may smile at the sadly optimistic ending. If you have, you will feel a bit of sadness creeping into your heart. And, knowing what's to come, I still can understand Mallow way too well - because a practical and kind girl has to protect those she's responsible for. Too bad the good intentions do not work out.
3 stars only because I know what Valente in capable of in her books, and this one, however whimsically melancholic and beautiful it may be, is little but a sketch, meant to throw a bone for the fans. It's lovely - but all the potential it's packing is not quite realized. I still love it, and still recommend it to all Valente fans. Okay, 3.5 stars.
The girl who would find herself, against long odds, Queen before dinnertime stood up and looked at her new friends, at her darling Leopard, at the glittering needle in her hand. Then she looked to the empty, hollowed-out city.
“Well,” Mallow said, feeling a wave of powerful practicality break on her heart. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”