Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng. ★★★★1/2
Under the Pendulum Sun is a darkly enchanting, Gothic tale of the fae.
In an alternate version of nineteenth century England, trade has been established with Arcadia, the realm of the fae. And among those heading to Arcadia are Christian missionaries, one of whom is Catherine Helston’s brother Laon. But as the months wear on, Catherine becomes desperate for news of what befalls him, and she manages to convince the missionary society that she (an unmarried woman!) should be sent to check up on him in Arcadia.
Of course, nothing goes as planned. When she arrives, it’s only to find herself practically trapped in an isolated manor house, Gethsemane, the only place permitted for the missionary and his family to reside. Only, her brother’s not even there, and none of the servants seem to know when he’ll return. Meanwhile, there’s the mystery of what fate befell the previous missionary to fairyland…
Obviously, the fae aren’t predisposed to take a friendly interest in Catherine and Laon’s mission. Think of everything you’ve read about the fae. Can you seriously imagine them converting? Nonetheless, Catherine and Laon are determined to do the impossible, but what they don’t realize is that they’ve become an amusement of a Fae Queen, trapped in a series of intricate mind games, full of twists and turns not even I suspected. They’re trying to impose order on the chaos of Arcadia, but they themselves risk succumbing to its twisted absurdity.
Jeannette Ng excels at crafting Catherine and her voice. She really transported me to the period of the novel and the inner workings of Catherine’s mind. This book is beautiful in its complexity; there are layers upon layers. Sometimes I read a book that feels more suited to an essay than a conventional review. Under the Pendulum Sun is definitely one of these, so I apologize if this review is lacking.
Under the Pendulum Sun is a discomforting read. Catherine has been thrown into a strange world, that has laws and physics all of its own, and everything she knows is questioned. In the beginning of the book, I starting sensing incestuous undertones in the relationship between Catherine and her brother. I figured I was just over extrapolating… until Catherine randomly flips through a Bible and lands on a verse about incest. Clearly, I was on the right track.
If you couldn’t guess from the synopsis, both Catherine and her brother are religious. Jeannette Ng has a Master’s degree in Medieval Studies, so it’s no surprise that she has a knowledge of Christian theology. Once in Arcadia, Catherine finds herself asking questions about her religion that she has no answer for, only adding to the confusing and overwhelming experience of Arcadia.
Under the Pendulum Sun is a book that I’ll need to come back to at a later date, as I think its material and themes deserve greater depth of thought than I can get with a first read through. While I enjoyed it a lot, I can’t shake the feeling that a lot of it went over my head! Particularly, next time I read through it I want to think about the significance of religion in the novel and how it ties in with the rest of the book.
In conclusion, Under the Pendulum Sun is an amazing debut novel from an author to watch.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.