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.
Title: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
Series: Worldbreaker Saga #1
Published by Angry Robot
Published: September 1st 2015
Format: Mass Market
And some of us believe in freedom of the individual over the tyranny of the common good.
On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past... while a world goes to war with itself.
In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy.
Stretching from desolate tundra to steamy, semi-tropical climes seething with sentient plant life, this is an epic tale of blood mages and mercenaries, emperors and priestly assassins who must unite to save a world on the brink of ruin.
As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father's people or loyalty to her alien Empress.
Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.
In the end, one world will rise - and many will perish.
After reading Kameron Hurley’s Stars are Legion, I immediately wanted to read everything else she’s written. I picked up The Mirror Empire at work because it was the only other thing aside from Stars are Legion that we had in stock by her at the moment, and I started reading it as my first pick for a Tome Topple read-a-thon this month. I wasn’t disappointed, and it was one of the best epic fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time.
The Mirror Empire subverts the popular tropes found in epic, patriarchal fantasy. While not as visceral and gross as Stars are Legion, this world Hurley has created in The Worldbreaker Saga certainly skeeved me out at times. Some of the buildings are organic, some of the weapons are organic (and attached to bodies by way of seeds in the wrists, of which I imagined coming out much like Wolverine’s claws???), some of the magic is blood magic. It’s the sort of fantasy with the perfect balance of violence and horror that gives you chills and thrills down your spine.
The story is complex and ambitious and takes a little while to get used to because nearly everything about the worlds in The Mirror Empire is different from our own familiarities. It calls into question our own ideas and expectations of gender, gender roles, family structures, and “how things have always been done.” The way in which Hurley does this is subtle. The questions and observations about our own society are covert but become a series of questions you as a reader begin to ask yourself as you explore the lives of the main characters in the story. For example: why is it generally acceptable to us as a society for women to be kept small, beautiful, and always ready for (male) consumption, but when it’s subverted and the men are kept small, beautiful, and always ready for (female) consumption, it’s striking and odd? I enjoyed the trope subversion immensely, and I want to keep reading the series to see where she goes with it next.
It’s certainly a mirror that reflects the best and worst of the expectations of the fantasy genre and our society, and if that’s an intentional pun, I like it. I think if you like epic fantasy and are looking for something new and different in the genre, you should check this one out!
Title: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published by Penguin
Published: September 6th 2001
Genres: Science Fiction
Format: Trade Paper
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
It’s interesting to note that history and its aftermath all rest on a series of single actions. If something hadn’t gone the way it had, it could have catastrophic influence on everything else (which is why, sadly, time travel cannot really work). What would our lives be like if a certain president weren’t elected or if certain events hadn’t happened? How much different would our lives really be? Philip K. Dick’s take on what could have happened had the United States lost WWII is eerie and true enough to life that it’s like looking into another dimension (and at some point in the novel, one of the characters does cross between that world and “our” world). I wouldn’t necessarily call this “science fiction,” as the most science-y fiction-y aspect of it is that the Germans are going to the moon and there’s that slight shift between universes, but I find this sits more under the sub-genre of speculative fiction. Science fiction focuses heavily on the “what if,” and this book certainly asks that question. What if the Germans and the Japanese took over the United States? I found it engaging, nuanced, and surprisingly modern.
Title: Graft by Matt Hill
Published: February 2nd 2016
Format: Mass Market
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Matt Hill’s Graft
is certainly interesting. It’s set in a futuristic, dystopian Manchester, England, in which a car thief gets mixed up with a cyborg woman who’s had an extra arm and various other enhancements grafted onto her body. It’s touted as something that draws influence from The Fifth Element
andThe Handmaid’s Tale
, and I think that sort of fits. It certainly would appeal to fans of either or both. It’s visceral, it’s dirty, it’s dark both in content and in atmosphere. Having lived sort of near Manchester for a bit while doing my master’s degree, I can vouch for it being cloudy, a bit dingy in places, and certainly edgier than the pristine countrysides of England we’re used to seeing in various books and films. I enjoyed it, although I wish there was more development both in character and in setting. Compared to Atwood’s writing, this just seemed like a three-fourths formed thing. Still enjoyable, and it definitely comes recommended to those who like the darker, grittier side of science fiction!