Otherland. A Book I both hungered and was worried to read. Hunger because well, faeries, proper faeries not sparkly cutesy types, in the hands of Louie Stowell’s story craft; and worried because I knew, like Myra feels when close to the Queen, I would be lost in the wonder forever, that my heart couldn’t take the book being over.
I still am kinda back there, even now.
Myra and Rohan are forever bound by the day they were born, which happened to also be the day they both died and came back. The two families come together every year to celebrate their ‘Deathday’ but in recent years its become a little awkward.
Myra, feeling inadequate to her vivacious and carefree mother tries so hard to be incredible that it often falls down, and not just tumbles, I mean thundering over Niagara Falls with a broken umbrella and budgie smugglers spectacular falling. Rohan is a clean-cut perfect child, and gets frustrated that year after year his birthday is hijacked by one accident after another.
However, this year as the garden shed goes up in flames, Rohan’s baby sister is whisked away into Otherland, because Deathday ripped a hole in the multiverse, and the faeries have finally reached through.
Take a measure of Labyrinth, a dollop of David Bowie, a pinch of Miranda Richardson’s Queenie, a sprinkle of Helena Bonham Carter, a dash of Michelle Pfieffer, stir in the Bacchanalian fairy scenes of A Midsummer Nights Dream meets the Dream Ball of Labyrinth then add a girl with a dash of Changeling and a whacking dollop of ADHD paired with a very well behaved boy who just wants his sister back and you have a book that is like nothing else I’ve quite read in a long time, and oh.…do I love it. Especially in the hands of Louie’s pacy, witty writing that has a magic you can almost taste..
You can’t talk about Otherland without referencing Labyrinth, it’s just not possible, BUT… this doesn’t mean it’s a copy or reboot. It’s one of those things where the Froud meets Henson world exploded into Louie’s consciousness and put down roots in her very soul (and for so many more of us too) and wove itself glittering into the tapestry of her imagination.
Not simply the rescue the baby sibling concept from the ‘Magic Dance’ to the window sill, from the outrageous ‘presence’ of the Queen to the topsy turvy trickster challenges it will be a delight yet is fresh, shiny and different in the same way- it’s like the echoes of the film sing in your mind in a comforting nostalgic way rather than ‘I’ve seen this before’ and that takes talent and skill which Louie has in heaps! To the young reader, I can imagine a kind grown up whisper, ‘Lets watch Labyrinth’ and their first experience will be cemented into their enjoyment of Otherland, that so wondrous I can barely contain the glee.
Myra felt a flutter of excitement,. whatever lay ahead might be dangerous, and might be terrifying… but oh! She felt alive.
One of Louie’s talents as a writer is the ferocity with which she imbues her characters, they re not meek and mild, even the ones you may think at first are!
Myra is a blazing fireball of energy and mischief, I swear there’s some faery in there! We are led to the suggestion she has ADHD from her exuberance that often ends in disaster and whilst in the real world it is perhaps her downfall, it really becomes a super power in Otherland and we realise that her difference is as much a strength as a challenge.
For someone whose brain works differently, and I suspect that Littlefae’s does too, it’s a validation and comfort to see that struggles, difference and diversity as this can be strengths and power instead of simply the source of teasing and dismissal. It’s also a wonderful window for children more like Rohan to experience and understand that good intentions and joy are often behind what they may perceive as annoying or clumsy.
myra couldn’t take her eyes off the woman. She’d seen beautiful things before in her life. Her mother’s gold spiked platform shoes, for example. But nothing like this. it was like gazing at the most beautiful sunset, but if that sunset was also an exploding star, and that exploding star was riding a unicorn. With wings.
Gloriana in all her -Queenie-Jareth- Queen of Hearts- splendour is a siren call in her Sapphic Faerie wonder, we are under her spell as the faeries and Myra notices herself in Otherland. This unabashed celebration of feminine beauty and allure and just letting Myra’s noticing and feelings to sit on the page is such a powerful thing, it’s not ‘saying’ anything, yet equally saying so much, and it’s quietness will be a roar to those who need it.
Basically, let yourself be taken away with the faeries, in Louie’s hands its sublime.
Otherland by Louie Stowell is published by Nosy Crow