Genre: Fantasy, Historical
Publisher: Angry Robot on October 3, 2017
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.
Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.
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.