Thursday, 12 April 2018

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng is the author's debut novel and a somewhat strange read on a few fronts. It's a gothic Victorian novel about missionaries sent to fairyland. Content warning for the book: non-coercive incest (but it's not mentioned again in this review because spoilers).

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.

I have to admit when this book first came to my attention I wasn't sure that I would enjoy it. I'm not a huge fan of non-humorous Victorian books and I've recently been drawn more to science fiction, so I did not immediately jump on the book. Instead I picked it up when it was on sale. As it turned out, I mostly enjoyed Under the Pendulum Sun, but "weird" is certainly a primary descriptor for it.

The story follows Catherine, who convinces the mission organisation that sent her brother as a missionary to Arcadia, the land of the fae, to send her after him when he hasn't been heard from for a while. We follow Catherine as she makes the journey to Arcadia (which requires getting lost along the way — and, to my amusement, is a land discovered by Captain James Cook, who also died there — and the weirdness she finds there. I particularly liked the titular pendulum sun: the sun in Arcadia is not the ordinary Earthly sun but rather a lantern on a pendulum that swings back and forth across the land. Distance isn't measured in the time taken to complete a journey, but rather the number of revelations or childhood memories one experiences along the way. And of course, the fae are not terribly nice people, but this last assertion is hardly unique.

Seeing a dark fairyland through the lens of devout christianity, and especially from the angle of trying to convert people, was really interesting. I'm not particularly into religion, but this was an aspect that really worked for me. Overall, I mostly enjoyed this book, but I found the various quotes at the starts of chapters slowed down the pacing of the story a little bit too much for me. The quotes themselves were often interesting in how they twisted real-world ideas or developed the world, but a lot of the time I also felt like the bogged down the main story too much. I was tempted to skip them, but they did add to the book overall (and there were a few particularly important ones near the end). I found myself enjoying the main prose sections a lot more although I did wonder at times where the story was going. The answer to that became a bit less mysterious once I realised that this was actually a character-driven book rather than a plot-driven one as I had originally assumed. The story is not in the sequence of events, per se, but in the characters internal journeys over a period of time (and the external journeys are very much a manifestation of the internal).

I would highly recommend Under the Pendulum Sun to fans of fantasy who enjoy having religious ideas entwined in their fiction. As the book itself proclaims a lot (notably in the dedication), it deals with apocrypha and as well as the fraught task of trying to convert fae to Christianity. I also recommend it to fans of gothic fantasy. I still have complicated feelings about this book but I am at least interested to see what else the author comes up with. (I'm not sure how eagerly I'd jump at a sequel, though.)

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Angry Robot
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo

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