Mary Bodie’s Underhill children’s books were the inspiration for movies and merchandise. The characters live on in the hearts of the Underlings, who brought their love of the series with them into adulthood.
The series itself was based on stories Magda’s mother, Devaty, told her when she was a child. (Mary was Magda’s pen name.) Devaty claimed to be the “Queen of Fairyland” so she regaled her daughter with stories about Underhill from an asylum.
We catch up with what’s left of the Bodie line at the beginning of the pandemic. Felix ‘Harry’ Bodie, Magda’s grandson, is a minor celebrity with a drinking problem and a curious habit of accidentally running in circles.
“I want you to come and see a wardrobe.”
It turns out that, despite everything Harry has believed up until now, Underhill is real. Unfortunately, all is not well in not-Narnia.
Its residents, which include Timon the fawn, Wish Dog the best dog, Hulder the dryad and Gombles the clown, aren’t exactly as advertised. It’s all a bit decrepit, actually, and there’s nary a Turkish delight in sight. Although there is cosmic dandruff. And swearing, which I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t find in Narnia.
“I am…” Harry said, “not sure what’s going on.”
This is a story of family legacy. It’s about how you respond when the role that was written for you doesn’t line up with reality. It’s characters yearning to fulfil their destiny when the world they inhabit goes off script. It’s portal fiction, which so many of my favourite reads are.
I loved not-Narnia, in all of its dilapidation. I loved its inhabitants, who have been doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. I loved that this felt like one big underdog story, one that was dreary and dismal but that also provided some humour and hope.
Of course, I thought of Narnia frequently and, even when I wasn’t, the book made comparisons for me. The discovery that a fictional world isn’t as fictional as you’d been led to believe reminded me of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.
I felt a slightly confusing nostalgia about characters I hadn’t grown up with when I read Josh Winning’s The Shadow Glass that I also felt here. I probably spent too much time trying to figure out where on Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children Compass (Nonsense, Logic, Wickedness, and Virtue) this novella would fit.
This is my first Adrian Tchaikovsky read and it’s safe to say that I’m hooked. I’ve been eyeing off this book for months and it was even better than I’d hoped. The world was literally falling apart, the characters were damaged and I loved every minute of it.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Solaris, an imprint of Rebellion Publishing, for the opportunity to read this novella.
Once Upon a Blurb
All roads lead to Underhill, where it’s always winter, and never nice.
Harry Bodie has a famous grandmother, who wrote beloved children’s books set in the delightful world of Underhill. Harry himself is a failing kids’ TV presenter whose every attempt to advance his career ends in self-sabotage. His family history seems to be nothing but an impediment.
An impediment… or worse. What if Underhill is real?What if it has been waiting decades for a promised child to visit? What if it isn’t delightful at all? And what if its denizens have run out of patience and are taking matters into their own hands?