Hugo reading 2018: Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeanette Ng

Jeanette Ng was nominated for a Campbell Award for her novel, Under the Pendulum Sun. This was a very good novel, and I should have liked it, but I didn’t.

It’s set in an alternate Victorian England, which has recently discovered Faerie, and the story starts when Catherine Helstone goes looking for her brother, Laon, a missionary who has been trying to evangelise the Faerie realm. Faerie and its inhabitants are as they should be – strange, capricious, dangerous, and subject to a logic and laws that make no sense to human minds. They also seem to derive particular pleasure from mentally torturing the humans they manage to lure into their lands, which makes for some very disturbing reading.

The imagery is gorgeous and fascinating. I especially like the sea whales who float through the air and contain entire ocean ecosystems in their transparent bodies. Overall, the story has quite a gothic sensibility, right down to the mysterious madwoman lurking around the castle muttering strange things. Andrew reckons the main characters are based on two of the Bronte sibling, but I’m not so sure.

I found the plot rather dark for my taste, and I’m really not convinced that a Victorian missionary who had gone to Faerie specifically to avoid a particular sexual temptation, and who clearly takes his vocation seriously, would so easily and without any apparent sense of guilt give in to a different, but similar, temptation later on. Andrew again claims that it’s a Bronte thing, but I’m not convinced; the whole attitude to sex seemed very un-Victorian to me, frankly. There’s some interesting theology that really can’t be discussed without spoiling all the way to the last page – I’m not sure how much I agree with it, but it does fit the setting and the world.

Also, there is some stuff that is really going to squick some people, but it’s spoilerish so I’m putting it in yellow so that you will have to highlight it to read it.

There is SO MUCH incest in this story.  Really, a lot.  It’s consensual, happy incest – Catherine and Laon are the central  pairing, and their relationship is very much a romantic one, and one that the story seems to approve of, in the end – but for me, that did not make it any less squicky and unpleasant to read.  And, to me, it felt out of character given how seriously both characters took their religious convictions.

Overall, I think this is a very good novel, and definitely deserves to be on this list. But it’s really not to my taste, which is a pity, because I really wanted it to be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.