Yes hello excuse me hi, does anyone know where I can get more stories by Jeannette Ng please it is suddenly very very important.
Fantasy | Published by Angry Robot | Out now | Cover art by John Coulthart
Catherine Helstone’s missionary brother, Laon, has disappeared while bringing the Gospels to the Dark Continent – not Africa, but Arcadia, legendary land of the magical Fae.
Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey to that extraordinary land, 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 – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.
Here’s an important thing to know about me: I love stories about the Fae. From Peter Pan to Labyrinth to Pan’s Labyrinth, I have loved them all my life, and for precisely the reason that those three examples highlight: there’s no one true way to define what ‘Fae’ is, beyond otherworldly. Except maybe ‘dangerous’, and with Under The Pendulum Sun, Jeannette Ng certainly nails that identifying marker down.
The Fae are dangerous, because they’re unfathomable to us. Yes, this can and does often make them curious and strange and beautiful, and as a toybox for writers to play in, it’s one of the biggest, full to bursting with possibilities – but we can never, ever forget that one thing they are not and will never be is human. And so we can’t treat them, or interact with them, as though they are. Because – and this is very important – THAT’S USUALLY WHEN THEY GET YOU.
That’s boiling a lot of what’s in this book down to an oversimplified idea, I know, but I’m trying to approach this review in a spoiler-free way and there’s a lot here to handle with care. There is, however, also a lot here to marvel at. Jeannette Ng takes the ‘dark and wicked’ approach to the Fae here, and aside from initially delighting my dark and wicked Fae-loving heart, it not only presented them in a way that feels fresh and fascinating (gothic mystery style is an unbelievably perfect fit in so many ways) but, in pairing that world and that style with a missionary’s calling as a plot device, what we get is a novel that dives deep, not only into a world full of the Fae and what that would be like for humans living in it, but into how human beings who hold to a very human kind of faith might deal with that.
Sort-of-not-really-a-spoiler: They maybe don’t deal with it very well.
I snapped this book up at first because of all of the surface elements that were presented. I, like Catherine Helstone and her brother, wasn’t ready for everything I found. Under The Pendulum Sun is, like Ng’s interpretation of Mab, wicked and lovely and inscrutable as the day is long, until the time comes to reveal something – just enough to keep us intrigued, and definitely enough to keep the reader (at least, this reader) on a constant knife-edge of creeping dread. I kept turning pages, knowing Something Bad Was Going To Happen, but the truly delightful thing is that I could never be entirely sure what it was going to be. With this story, you don’t really know anything until you know everything, and that ‘everything’ is … Damn, it’s a lot.
The end result has left me fairly certain that this book is not going to be to everyone’s tastes. Whether it’s dealing with the Fae or with humanity, this book’s darkness permeates everything. So my advice is to be prepared to feel very uncomfortable at times. I did. But at the same time, I can absolutely appreciate what I think Ng is doing with all of that tempting, uncompromising darkness. In that sort of world, you find light where you can, and it could be argued that this is what Cathy and Laon ultimately do. Whatever you think of it, I feel fairly certain that this book will make you think, and if you make it to the end you may well find yourself thinking long and hard about all the philosophical knots it unravels.
If you know what a changeling is, then you’ll know that those are some pretty tangled philosophical knots. How do you stay human in a world where nothing is human? And if you can’t be human, but will never be so inhuman as to be Fae, where does that leave you?
Discomfort or no discomfort, I’d be lying if I said this book hadn’t utterly blown me away. As debut novels go, I think this is a damned hard one to beat, and I’ve read some really great ones. In fairness, both to it and to others, though, I’ve never read anything quite like this. As an example of SFF at its finest, it shines like a faerie moon hanging before an angler fish. Just watch out for those teeth.
Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, on request, in exchange for an honest review.