Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng
In Under the Pendulum Sun we are introduced to Catherine, the sister of Laon, a missionary in Arcadia. Arcadia is the land of the Fae. The book is set in Victorian times, where there was a large push to promote Christianity in far-off lands and where better than in the Godless fairylands. Catherine arrives in Arcadia and is greeted by Ms Davenport, a changeling who brings her to Gethsemane. Gethsemane is a castle that her brother is staying in, as the previous missionary Roche set up his mission there. Unfortunately for Catherine, Laon is not there to greet her. Catherine is told on arrival that there are rules that she must follow that will keep her safe from harm.
Catherine has always been inquisitive by nature but has learnt, as all good girls must, to quell these impulses as much as possible. Catherine feels a small amount of jealousy towards her brother, as he was able to leave and travel to far off places. Catherine has had a feeling that Laon is in trouble as he has now been in Arcadia for three years and has stopped communicating with her, this has impelled Catherine to follow Laon to this strange land. Catherine, like all humans that have arrived in Arcadia, knows that any food she consumes must be salted by human hand with salt brought into Arcadia. Catherine is also told that she must not leave the castle as her safety outside the castle grounds is not a given. There are other rules about the castle, but no one will tell her why she must obey them, or what will happen if she doesn’t.
Along with Ms Davenport, Catherine spends her days with the other castle inhabitants, Mr Benjamin, a goblin who was converted to Christianity by the previous missionary. Mr Benjamin is the only Fae to do so and has many questions about his place in God’s plan. Mr Benjamin asks Catherine to help him answer these questions, as he believes that a sister is as good as a brother. The last inhabitant of Gethsemane is the mysterious Salamander who cooks all the food that Catherine eats, but who Catherine has never seen.
Under the Pendulum Sun has a gothic haunted house mystery feel to it. Catherine discovers a lot of half-truths and lies as she tries to find out what happened to the missionary that Laon replaced. Reading Roche’s diaries she picks up traces of what Roche was trying to discover, but Catherine also feels that there is someone else in the castle who is either trying to help or hinder her from finding out the truth. When Laon finally shows up in the novel he is distant and unlike the brother she remembers, Catherine hopes that this could be down to the stress of his job, as Laon has been petitioning Mab the queen of fairyland to allow him more access to Arcadia, rather than being confined to Gethsemane and the port.
There is a lot more action in the second half of the book as Catherine and Laon confront truths that they have been trying to ignore since they were children. There are some interesting discussions on sin and whether the Fae have souls or not. Although, I did feel that the author was trying to have it both ways, as there is a moral contradiction in Catherine’s behaviour as she believes that she has saved Laon’s soul by stopping him from committing murder, but doesn’t stop him from having sex before marriage, which would also count as a sin. As the book focuses a lot of time on morality and propriety in this age, I found, in my opinion, that the author had stopped following her own rules.
Queen Mab was probably the most interesting character in this story, as she makes people face their own truths. This seems to be true for not only the humans who have been allowed into Arcadia, but also her subjects. Mab is also destructive and vindictive, but this may be due to her very interesting back story. Those who belong to her court range from the beautiful to the grotesque, with Mab collecting curiosities as she leads Catherine and Laon deeper into the mysteries of Arcadia.
My biggest problem with the book was that I didn’t care enough about what happened to Catherine and Laon, whether they would get their wish of seeing more of Arcadia or if they would be stuck in Gethsemane forever. The book was beautifully written and there were moments of outstanding visualisation, such as the descriptions of the sun and the moon that flow across the Arcadian sky, but I felt that there has been too much moralising and justifications to really make this an enjoyable read.
This Under the Pendulum Sun book review was written by Michelle Herbert
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