⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Imagine if Charlotte Brontë had dropped a shit ton of acid and wrote Jane Eyre in the middle of a really bad trip and you’ve pretty much got the gist of Under the Pendulum Sun. One of the most unsettling, eerily atmospheric and DARKEST of dark fantasies I’ve ever read, this is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
But I warn you, it is DARK.
It is twisted.
It’s an alluring and claustrophobic nightmare.
It’s the fucking best.
The book takes place in the 19th century and tells the story of Catherine Helstone, whose missionary brother Laon has gone missing in Arcadia, the mystical land of the fae, while trying to convert them to Christianity. Catherine makes the perilous journey to Arcadia only to find herself alone and isolated within the sinister house of Gethsemane while waiting for news of Laon’s whereabouts. We soon discover there’s more to the story however, and what follows is a deeply disturbing tale of guilt, absolution and a chilling take on the fae as cruel, spiteful and magically sinister beings.
The pace is deliberately slow for most of the book and Jeannette uses that to great effect to increasingly add layers to an ever more menacing atmosphere as the story progresses and the mysteries intensify. At every point during the book I was actively asking myself what the fuck was going on.
Where is Laon?
What is Miss Davenport hiding?
What the hell does Queen Mab want?
The questions, the atmospheric world building, the claustrophobia of Gethsemane all combine to make you feel (and I mean really feel) Catherine’s increasing sense of helplessness and spiral into despair.
Despite its obviously fantastical nature, Arcadia is a grounded and well-researched creation. The pendulum sun that gives the book its name doesn’t sit at the centre of a heliocentric solar system, it’s literally a pendulum that swings from side to side across the sky. Jeannette wrote a fascinating article about the science behind this and the lengths she went to to research it.
And a lot of research clearly went into this book. Every chapter begins with passages from real nineteenth century texts, including academic treatises and religious tracts. Some have been amended by the author to account for a world where the fae are real and Jeannette seriously demonstrates her skill as a writer and historian here, fully adopting the vernacular and writing style of the original authors to the point that I couldn’t tell which bits were real and which weren’t.
All told, Under the Pendulum Sun is an incredible dark fantasy and Jeannette Ng fully deserves every ounce of recognition she’s received. You know a book is off the scale good when you close it and just stare at the wall questioning everything you thought you knew about existence.
So yeah, go pick this up now and just send me a thank you note at 3:00am when the nightmares wake you up.
Did you find this review useful? Follow the blog and never miss a post!