A collaboration between famous doll-maker Wendy Froud and award-winning author/editor Terri Windling - could you ever ask for a better team? In this beautifully created book the two present the story of the faery Sneezle - small, helpless and over-looked, who is desparate to make a difference on this particular Midsummer Night, the night where all manner of faery creatures join to together in celebrations unknown to Sneezle - he's always sleeped through them! He is determined though that tonight will be different, and immediately goes out in search of something to do to help, though often his attempts cause more harm than good. Finally though he is given a task by Lord Oberon himself, a task so important however that Sneezle doubts his chances to successfully achieve it. With Queen Titania under a strange spell of sleep, Oberon orders Sneezle to fetch her crown from the Heart of the Wood - but a beautiful-yet-dangerous enchantress is out to fetch the crown also, to become Oberon's new queen.
If there is something wrong with this book, it is perhaps that the narrative is too complicated. I get the distinct impression that this book will most likely reach the bookshelves of more adults than children, but nevertheless the story often branches out into several tangents that do not quite flow. Though the story starts with Sneezle's quest to find something useful to do and a few encounters with various faery folk, he soon comes across the sleeping Titania. He then goes in search of Oberon, who sends him off to fetch the crown. Then there is Twig, the young faery who (and this I really disliked) wanted time to perfect her appearance before going on a life-or-death quest to fetch the crown. Then there's the matter of the sword and Titania's missing and transformed handmaidens, and of Rianna's several appearances and her adjenda that conflicts with Sneezle's own. Perhaps the intricate, many stranded plot was what Windling was going for, but it doesn't quite come across as the simple 'faery tale' that is in the title of the book. I'm not saying that Windling should have made a simple story line that only children would have found enjoyable, nor that I particulary disliked it - just that a few creases in the structure could have been ironed out to make it a more fluid storytelling effort, rather than a rushed and jumbled story. On the other hand, the story is charming, not too sugary (like many other 'fairy' tales) and has a good underlining message to just be yourself. This is just a little quibble of mine - nitpicking in the face of an otherwise perfect and beautiful book.
Wendy Froud's exquistie dolls are the real reason for purchasing this book. Whether they are the tiny sylph-like faerys or the larger, more solid, graceful humanoid dolls, the distorted and somewhat macabre gnomes and imps or the merticulously crafted unicorns, each one is unquie, beautiful and inspiring. Each one has its own personality, its own individuality and a beautiful costume. Yet although these dolls are positioned within beautifully created sets of woodland scenery and lighted softly and mysteriously, I would not re-hire the photographer they used as he sometimes shoots the dolls from some rather awkward angles. The most obvious example is that of the faery Rianna in the picture where she is leaning forward, her hand extended. The doll herself is utterly perfect, but the actual photograph is off-centre, so that she is positioned well on the left side of the page and her fingers are almost lost in the binding of the book. I assume this was done to keep all of her wings within the picture, but all that needed to be down was photograph her at a different angle. As it is, the photograph almost appears to be part of a much bigger photo that was roughly chopped to fit into the book. Another example is that of Oberon and Titania on the unicorns at the conclusions of the book - Oberon's black unicorn is not only difficult to see, but again nearly lost in the binding, such is its positioning on the far left side of the page.
Yet again, this is another small flaw and never takes away from the beauty of the dolls and the charm of Windling's intricate story. Make sure you get your hands on the next edition - The Winter's Child, and cross your fingers for a third installment in Sneezle's adventures.
This is a wonderful book for all lovers of folklore, fairy tales, and the magical forests of the British Isles. I bought it to read to my children, but I loved Terri Windling's poetic tale also and Wendy Froud's dolls are stunningly beautiful, so I would recommend this as a perfect gift for adults too. I have also purchased Terri Windling's brand new faery story for older children, The Raven Queen, and recommend it to all faery lovers. It's another poetic and magical faery story from the talented Miss Windling and the only thing that would have made it better is cover art by Wendy Froud. Long live the faeries!