I love fantasy, and my favorite fantasy creatures by far are fairies. That’s why when I saw The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz at the library, I immediately checked it out and read it. There were parts of it I really enjoyed, but after reading the first few pages, I found that, like several other children’s fantasy novels I’ve read, this book does not take the time to develop its characters or concepts.
Flory (the title character), Skuggle the squirrel, the hummingbird, the spider, and Peregrine the bat all should have been better developed characters. When I read the part at the beginning about Flory loosing her wings, I did not feel adequately sad about that. Schlitz should have done more to introduce Flory to the reader before having her loose her wings. Flory wasn’t unlikeable or anything; she just didn’t feel like someone I had grown to like. I felt as though I had only just met her. I love fairies, and so of course I was somewhat sad about a fairy loosing her wings, but I wanted to be sadder. In a good fantasy story, sadness over a fairy loosing her wings should be similar to sadness over a person one cares about loosing a limb. That may sound like a lot to ask, but this is not an exaggeration in how important well-developed characters are to both writers and readers.
Also, if Skuggle the squirrel had been a better-developed character, Schlitz could have given this story a much better ending, one that didn’t seem out of nowhere. With the way the book is written, Skuggle’s reminding Flory at the end that she had promised him cherries for letting her ride him out of her house seems like a random note to end on. I think this is because it was never clear in the book what Flory’s relationship with Skuggle was, something that could have been made clearer if he and Flory had been stronger characters. Skuggle did Flory favors for food in the story, but it was never clear whether they would become closer friends or if one of them would finally get sick of the other demanding things, and they would have an argument, go their separate ways, or even become enemies. Any of those possibilities could have made for a better ending, not to mention a more interesting story, than the book has.
Another thing I love having in fantasy stories is explanations of whole new fantasy worlds and their inhabitants. This book, I’m sorry to say, was lacking in that as well. It could have told us more about night fairies and day fairies. It probably would have needed to if Flory had met other fairies in the story, but she didn’t, which I was disappointed by.
I have heard from other readers of this book that the story is too simple, but I think it’s the characters, not the story, that should have been more complex. A simple story is fine as long as it has well-developed characters, but this story has none. Despite the book’s lacking well-developed characters, I liked the simplicity of this story. The main other thing I liked about the book was how it went into great detail on a fairy’s relationship with the natural world. In doing so, it made some very good points about both Nature and humanity, such as how all animals need to eat, so eating other animals is not an evil deed, and that humans shouldn’t expect birds to trust them even if they put feeders up for them, since humans eat chickens.
That being said, this story still would have been much better with stronger characters. I read in Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin that the main reason many publishers do not accept stories with talking animals is that many authors seem to think cuteness is enough of a personality to give a talking animal. These authors don’t develop the talking animal’s personality beyond that. From the middle grade fantasy novels I’ve read, including this one, I’d say a similar thing is true about fantasy. Many authors seem to think a fantasy world and fanciful creatures (or talking animals, which are also prevalent in fantasy) is enough to make a story interesting. Thus, they don’t think a fantasy story needs strong characters. This is not accurate. A fantasy story needs strong characters just as much as a realistic story does. Some fantasy stories do have strongly developed characters, like Lynne Reid Banks’ The Indian in the Cupboard series, which I would like to eventually review on this blog. I really hope, though, that more authors discover the importance of developing strong characters for fantasy stories. I am currently trying to do so as an author, and someday I may even create a strong fairy character!