Review: Under the Pendulum Sun

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

When the author told me this book was 400 pages long I was halfway in and didn't believe her. Yes, the prose style is consciously Victorian to match its narrator. Yes, a lot of the text is world-building. Yet there is enough mystery to create narrative momentum which draws the reader easily through to the end.

The book is structured so as to reveal mysteries in turn, all of the form what happened to person X who mysteriously disappeared? At its heart we have our narrator, Catherine Helstone's longing for her brother Laon, an English missionary sent to convert the fae creatures of Arcadia. But Laon is not the first missionary: he follows in the footsteps of a Reverend Roche, who also disappeared, as did Rev. Roche's wife, and also there's Miss Ariel Davenport, a changeling, and what happened to her original?

The book is strongly tinged with Gothic horror and I assure you the fate of all these missing characters is suitably horrible. Usually they deserve it.

I can say this definitively because one of the author's strengths is foreshadowing. By the time major revelations start to be granted, around halfway through the book, they bring their full impact (and the stretch from Queen Mab's ball through to the aftermath of her hunt contains several emotional gut punches) but they also make perfect sense. A sharp-eyed, well-read reader can, in fact, divine most of the major plot twists through examining character names & picking up on Ng's many mythological references.

This intense foreshadowing and the scale of the revelations at the book's midpoint lead to the only aspect of the book I really fault: once those intense beats have passed, the book's denouement walks the characters only slowly toward their fate. Kurt Vonnegut once proposed that the typical novel follows the arc ?, !, . and that the reason his own work was so "punchy" was because he wrote ? !; Under the Pendulum Sun goes ? ?? !! ... as our Catherine and Laon contemplate the consequences of embracing what is, from every aspect, a terrifying future. The book's final reveal is an existential, world-shifting tragedy; but it pales in impact compared to what Catherine has already put herself through.

Overall this was a wonderful book from a promising author. I'm glad to have a copy.

#SFWApro

Edmund Schluessel

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