Thursday, 2 August 2018

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

I haven't written all the reviews for Hugo-nominated works and authors yet, but I have now read them all and put my ballot together, which was very exciting. It's going to take me a few days to catch up on writing about the books I pushed to finish on time, and here was one of the late entries. It was also one I like a whole heck of a lot. Jeannette Ng was nominated for the Campbell Award this year, and I think this is a very strong contender in that category.

This is at least partly because this book appeals to a few very specific areas that I know about more than the average bear, and does interesting things with them. I have, of course, a well-documented weakness for fairy tales, and stories where fairies interact with the human world. Add to that a couple of well-meaning Christian missionaries, and an author who knows the theological tangles they'd get themselves into while trying to establish a mission in Fairyland? You have to know that I'm thoroughly in. Ng does a marvellous job of taking the Fae seriously and creating something unique and inhuman about them, and taking her human missionaries and their beliefs seriously and combining the two to create a marvellously twisty tale.

My one quibble, and it was by no means a dealbreaker, is that the reveals, of which there are two major ones, were telegraphed well in advance. In neither case did this spoil the twist, as having figured it out (quite easily) didn't detract from the enjoyment of seeing how we'd get there. But when the mysterious woman arose, it was quickly apparent who she was, if not why she was that way, and the final reveal about Cathy's origins wasn't hard to figure out, given what we know about the caprices of the Fairy Queen Mab. So those didn't land as surprises, but there was enough else going on that they didn't need to.

This is the story of Catherine Helstone, whose brother Laon has gone to Fairyland, under the titular pendulum sun, and moon fish, to minister to the inhabitants there, to bring the word of Christianity to truly foreign shores that can only be found by the lost. Once he gets there, communication cuts off, and Cathy goes in search of her brother. After Cathy finds her way to the shores, she finds an empty gothic castle where her brother resides. It is also the castle where the one former missionary had resided, although he died in mysterious circumstances.

Her brother is away, seeking audience with Queen Mab to extend his field of mission further than just the castle and the few inhabitants inside, who include Ariel, a changeling, Benjamin, the only Christian convert fairy so far, and The Salamander, a mostly unseen housekeeper. Catherine settles in impatiently and starts to amass the clues as to what happened to the previous minister, if not to understand them.

Laon returns, with the Queen close behind, and she is more than happy to play with the siblings like toys, wielding lies and truth with equal cruelty and caprice. How do you convert people who have no sense that they are fallen? What do you run away from, and what happens when that thing follows you? What happens when desires meet strictures and desires win? It's all woven together quite wonderfully, and I was glad I got to read this book.

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