Review: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Genre: Fantasy, Historical

Publisher: Angry Robot on October 3, 2017

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Victorian missionaries travel into the heart of the newly discovered lands of the Fae, in a stunningly different fantasy that mixes Crimson Peak with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

  

Jeannette Ng’s debut novel UNDER THE PENDULUM SUN is a stylishly told Victorian gothic that prompts many moral reflections, even as readers revel in her sumptuous descriptions. Fans of classic novels like Jane Eyre, traditional fairy tales, and those with an interest in Christian theology, rejoice!

Miss Catherine Helstone embarks on a perilous journey into Arcadia, the Faelands, to reunite with her beloved brother Laon. Working as a missionary, Laon’s duty is to bring the Christian faith into Arcadia and convert the mercurial fae to the true faith; once as close as two people can be, Catherine fears that Arcadia has had a devastating effect on her now-distant brother, and prays that she isn’t too late to save him. But all is not as it seems in Arcadia, and the mysterious manor Gethsemane has secrets even darker than Cathy’s imaginings…

It’s not often that I’m left feeling conflicted about a book, but UNDER THE PENDULUM SUN is that rare beast. Jeannette Ng has penned a flawlessly-written story about complex characters in a fascinating world, but it failed to consistently hold my attention. As soon as I would feel immersed in the world of Arcadia and invested in Cathy’s emotional journey, the minutiae of Christian theology and doctrinal arguments would pull me back out again. Which is disappointing, because Ng’s world of pendulum suns, fish moons, and doors that should never be opened is a fascinating one indeed.

Ng masterfully crafts a sense of growing unease and “wrongness” that permeates traditional Gothic stories, implying many dark deeds and sinister plots at work beneath the otherworldly beauty of Arcadia. As Cathy seeks to unravel the mysteries of Arcadia, Gethsemane, and Laon’s behaviour, the feeling of impending disaster becomes more intense. Conflicting accounts of the previous missionary’s death, a mysterious and disturbing journal, and Cathy’s increasingly creepy dreams also contribute to the atmospheric land of the Fae.

Beyond the mission to convert the Fae and unravel the mysteries of Gethsemane, UNDER THE PENDULUM SUN is really a story about what it means to be monstrous, and who gets to assign that label to whom. Are Laon and Cathy better than the Fae simply because of their humanity? Or is it their humanity that brings them closer to the changeable nature of those they seek to convert than they ever considered? These questions become even more complex when the cruelty of the Fae and the immorality of Cathy and Laon’s true desires are compared to the strict dictates laid out by their beliefs. There’s a lot to unpack in this standalone novel, and although I found it difficult to stay invested in the story, the questions that Ng posed here kept me thinking for weeks afterward.

UNDER THE PENDULUM SUN is an eerie, unsettling, and accomplished first novel. While it didn’t hit all the right notes for me, I’m incredibly impressed by Jeannette Ng’s talent and I’m eager to see what she comes up with next.

What’s your favourite creepy, Gothic read? Have you read UNDER THE PENDULUM SUN? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Bookworm Brandee

    First of all, I love the cover. 😉 And then you had me at Victorian and gothic. But it concerns me that the theology kept pulling you out of the story despite it being so well written. I still think I’ll give it a shot, Danya. It seems like something worth checking out.
    I liked Beautiful Creatures. 😀

  • Lauren

    I’m sold – I mean, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell meets Crimson Peak? 🙂

    Lauren @ Always Me

  • Huh. You know, I feel like I haven’t read a Gothic fiction novel in a long time. Maybe since April Tucholke’s debut duology. I think I would looooove the genre if I read more Gothic fiction books! Although I’m not great with creepy LOL. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one for the most part, Danya! Let me know if you have more Gothic recs up your sleeve.

    Have a great day. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

  • Hmmm this sounds really cool. I’m generally a fan of stories that are 2spooky4me but I also really need plot-driven / action-y books. I guess I’ll have to mull on this one for a bit!

  • Gorgeous cover! And oh wow, this does sound interesting! Converting the fae and everything, that’s different. I’ve recently become a lot more interested in books that combine Christianity or Catholicism with fantasy/paranormal, but I do think it needs to be done right. If it gets preachy or bogged down in theology and whatnot, then yeah, that can be a problem. Still, the rest sounds good, and I’m kind of interested in this now!

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    The concept of a missionary envoy to the fae is a fascinating one, but from your review it seems that the author had problems with the balance between pure story and theological doctrine, which is a pity because the story itself sounds fascinating. It’s however the kind of book that must be read, if nothing else to satisfy one’s curiosity about such a unique setting.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Lynn Williams

    I almost requested this one but my plate was already full and I’m trying to get over “Eyes to big for the belly” syndrome. You seemed to like this but not love it so, given we usually enjoy the same books, I’ll probably leave this one for now.
    Lynn 😀

  • Karen

    Despite a few hiccups it still sounds like a good read.

    For What It’s Worth

  • It sounds really interesting but the religious aspect is a bit off putting. I mean, on the one hand what an interesting concept to discuss in a book with Christian theology and the very opposite religion that the fae must have. I can’t decide if the theological debates will work for me or not. I think I’ll give it a shot because the book because it sounds cool. I’ll force my library to get me a copy.

  • You always make the books you enjoyed sound so good – even though it’s totally not my thing! How do you dooooooo that? Even with the issues you mentioned it sounds good.

    Great review!