Title: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Published by Angry Robot
Published: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
It has been as long as it takes to tell a tale, neither long nor short.
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.
If you found yourself wanting something more in the same vein as Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, wait no more. Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun expertly weaves fantasy, the Gothic, academia, and religion in this compelling novel about missionaries to Arcadia, the land of the Fae.
The story explores a lot of the conventions and repressions of the times and of Gothic tropes (it’s got that weird castle with hidden passage ways, clever uses of light, and the madwoman down below); delves into folklore, fairy tales, and the Fae; and manages to make you think about how we view those ideas, concepts, and social constructs if you’re familiar with them. The story also manages to twist and invert all of that and make it very new, something that I think can be difficult to do well and Ng makes it look effortless.
I loved the inclusion of documents at the beginning of each chapter and spread throughout to ground the story in its own reality and explore the beliefs of Catherine and Leon. The narrative moves in such a way that you, as a reader, begin to question everything, especially once Queen Mab makes her appearance and throws everything for a loop. As we are experiencing all of this through Catherine’s eyes, once the veil is lifted, all we can do is experience the horror and awe as truths come to light.
Under the Pendulum Sun is dark, twisted, and well-executed, and it’s a debut. There was much failing and ahhhhh-ing from me while reading it. If you are already interested in Gothic literature, religion and its functions in society, the taboo, the Fae, you’ll want to read this. You won’t want to put it down once you’ve started, and you’ll be thinking about Arcadia long after you turn the final page.
Thank you to Angry Robot and Netgalley for an advance reader’s copy! All opinions are my own.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme thing hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is best reads (so far) of 2017! As of writing this post, I’ve read 65 books this year, and here are the ten that I think absolutely shone. Some were released this year, but not all of them! These are also not in any kind of order!
- The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher. I think, like a lot of people, I regret not having read any of Carrie Fisher’s writing before her death. This memoir is one of the funniest memoirs I’ve read in a while, and she writes with an openness and a frankness I someday aspire to have.
- Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. It’s Gaiman. It’s Norse mythology.
- The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden. A really lovely, atmospheric fairy tale with bits of Russian and Western fairy tale essences woven in. I’m really excited for the followup because so much excitement of the story seemed to happen in the last third.
- Moby-Dick; or The Whale, by Herman Melville. Uh, if you would have told me a couple of years ago that Moby-Dick would become one of my top favorite novels of all time, I might have laughed in your face. But seriously, my dudes. This is a classic case of learning about the history surrounding a novel and then diving into it, because it makes the experience all the richer. I devoured this monstrous beast of a novel in mere days. DAYS.
- The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. So heartbreaking, so touching, so relevant. I’ve been telling everyone to read this book.
- The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley. I pitch this to people who are looking for new science fiction to read like this: Do you like military-esque, dramatic sci-fi? Do you like weird sci-fi? Do you like gross sci-fi? How do you feel about womb-punk? (What? they often ask.) I respond with a: this book is like a birth-is-war and war-is-birth kind of thing. I generally get one of two responses: I’M SOLD OMG and YOU READ SOME WEIRD SHIT, MEG. Read it, now.
- The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu. THIS JUST WON A LOCUS AWARD and has a lot of other accolades. The stories range from fantasy to sci-fi and are all well written and full of life. It’s just a good anthology, period.
- The Whole Art of Detection, by Lyndsay Faye. I don’t think I can stop babbling about this or thinking about this collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. They’re just so well done and evoke Doyle’s atmosphere so well while at the same time being fresh and modern. I’ll read anything Faye writes, and she’ll always be at the top of my recommendations lists.
- Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer. Flying bears? A blobby, morphing person-thing? Examinations on what it means to be a person? Yes, yes, yes. This feels like an Atwood extension that’s thoroughly VanderMeer’s stuff. If you’ve read his Southern Reach trilogy and liked it, why haven’t you picked this up yet? It’s dystopian, but it’s not an in-your-face one. Everything is centralized, and the characters are so well developed.
- Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen. THIS ONE CAME OUT OF NOWHERE?? I’ve seen lots of writers I like mention this and blurb for it, so when it was a Kindle daily deal, I bought it. I didn’t start reading it until a bit later, and it was everything I needed at that moment: a protagonist dealing with gender identity and expression, the old west, MONSTERS and creepy things, AH so many things that I’ll get into in a proper review soon.
THIS CONCLUDES THE TEN. I’m thinking I’ll do a ten best for the second half of the year and then do a final post narrowing those twenty down to the overall best ten of 2017!
Have you read any of these?
Title: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey
Published: January 10th 2017
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale
is a superbly magical fairy tale inspired by Russian folklore. The story is lyrical and engaging, and even though I’m not a reader who is familiar with Russian fairy tales and folklore, so much of it seems both familiar and strange that I felt like this story has both been part of that fairy tale lexicon of sorts and wholly new all at the same time. I love it when a writer weaves together the old and the new to make a new effortless-feeling tale that lingers in the mind long after the book ends.
Vasya, the main character, is lively and complicated, as fairy tale heroines often tend to be. Arden’s villains are nuanced and complex, making you think that perhaps villainy is only a construct of our perspectives rather than a factual thing. The atmosphere feels like a chilly Russian wilderness, and its distant enough in time and distance to be all the more enchanting.
And, like many traditional, “original,” fairy tales, The Bear and the Nightingale is beautiful and terrifying in a very Neil Gaiman-esque sort of way, and I love the sort of terror that sneaks up on you and faces you full-on, making you come to terms with the terror of your own reality in contrast to this fairy tale one.
If you are a fan of Erin Morgenstern and Neil Gaiman and enjoy reading terrifically beautiful fairy tales, this is one you need to add to your TBRs immediately!
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House/Ballantine for a review copy!
Title: Cress by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Published: February 4th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
I first read this book as an e-copy while studying in England, and I plowed through it in a day. I couldn’t bring myself to do much else. I love Rapunzel as a fairy tale. Cress embodies that role perfectly – innocent, yet intelligent and intuitive. She grows throughout the entire book in a way that I never found forced or false. Her budding relationship with Thorne is perfect too. They’re probably my favorite relationship in the series because Thorne (the charming scoundrel) learns to love Cress without being able to see her (and it’s a nice reference to the fairy tale itself with him being blinded after a fall).
One of the things I am really liking about this series is the way Marissa Meyer can add new characters to the plot and not have it feel like those additions are too much or too confusing. Each character adds their own flavor to the story and round it out nicely. On some occasions it does tend to drag out a little bit, which may be the only downside to multiple POVs, and that makes it for a weaker novel if you’re looking at it from a standalone perspective. I honestly cannot wait to see how everything is resolved in the last book!
Title: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #2
Published by Feiwel and Friends
Published: February 5th 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
As I’m rereading The Lunar Chronicles in preparation for Winter, I’m taking a closer look at each of the books. I studied fairy tales in college, and I’ve always been interested in reinterpretations and retellings of the stories. I love that this series has a lot of science fiction elements woven in with the traditional magic elements often found in fairy tales.
This second one rates just a slight bit higher than the first because there’s more action, there’s a bit more world development, and a lot more character development. I won’t write out many spoilers, so I’ll touch on things I liked and didn’t like. Out of the new characters introduced, I really like Thorne. He reminds me of a younger, more rash Han Solo. Scarlet is the sort of heroine I want to see more of in books marketed toward younger readers because she’s quite open-minded about a lot of things, especially with regards to Wolf. Something that I found a little unbelievable was everyone’s utter blindness to Cinder’s true identity. The obliviousness left in that blind wake made for sort of clunky storytelling, so if anything could be remedied about this series would to either make a bigger deal of Cinder’s identity or withhold it until a more climactic reveal. Because honestly, why else would Levana be so adamant about killing Cinder?
Meyer’s writing and characterizations are stronger in this second novel of the series, and it ends with a great lead-in to Cress.