Book review: Under The Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

My brother and I grew up dreaming of new worlds.

This is a stunning, incredible, difficult book. Or at least, there were aspects of it that I found very difficult. And there was also a huge and incredible imagination at work, doing things that I hadn’t precisely seen before. There is also MAJOR SPOILER MAJOR SPOILER MAJOR SPOILER a pretty big trigger warning for incest that I think is worth putting out there. It’s not rape, and there are some identity things going on in the book, but incest happens. END SPOILER END SPOILER END SPOILER.

So, the premise is that we are in an alternate Victorian era, and Catherine Helstone’s brother has gone on a mission to Arcadia, also known as Elphane or Faeryland. And she has not heard from him in long enough that she organises to follow him.

To be bluntly honest, I am enormously conflicted about this book. On the one hand, the writing is exquisite. The imagination of the world, the claustrophobia of the castle in Arcadia, the relentless feeling of creeping insanity, is all incredible. I loved the layering of the world, the little reveals, the attention to detail. In Arcadia, the sun is a lantern swinging across the sky and the moon is a fish. The weather is bought in from other places. The housekeeper is a Salamander, who prefers not to talk to anyone. The gardener is the only convert that has been made since missionaries reached the land of the fae, a gnome called Benjamin Goodfellow. And there is a changeling called Ariel Davenport, though she is clear that that was never her name precisely. Each chapter starts with an extract from a publication in the world that this is set in, and it is full of theology and strange and bizarre things. I could have spent happy hours just exploring the faeryland of Jeanette Ng’s imagination, and a lot of the characters in it.

And I enjoyed Catherine, mostly. She was an interesting, intelligent, and unreliable narrator. But the story… Well, it was very compelling, and I really wanted to know what would happen. What the Pale Queen, a cruel faery who looked perhaps like an owl or a moth, was planning and what she wanted. What was she planning for Laon (Catherine’s missionary brother). I wanted to know and then… Then I really really did not like where it went. Again, this part is going to be ENORMOUSLY SPOILER-FILLED. But incest. uuugggggghhhhhhhhhhhh yeuck. There was a sort of sense to it, and as a way of the Pale Queen constructing Laon’s downfall it made a sort of sense, especially with the identity issue that was going on at the time: the reveal that Catherine was a changeling (or thought she was). But but but but but there were way more interesting things going on in the plot: like, well, everything: What happened to the previous missionary? Who is the person writing in his journal? Why is there a second chapel in the garden? What did Catherine’s sister die of? What do the moths know and who is the woman in black and why does the tower door refuse to lock? I wanted to know these things. I really, really didn’t want Laon and Cathering to have sex. I wanted her to run away with the faeries covered in Enochian writing. I wanted her to find her own life and interests and not shag her brother. I just felt that there could have been a way out. Like, maybe that could have been a temptation or a possibility of it, but that something else could have happened?

And it sort of ties into this trend I have noticed in certain genres where women are only allowed to enjoy bad sex. Bad guilty sinful bad sex where everyone ends up feeling awful and terrible or maybe one of them is a creature of the evil bad night or someone is mute or it’s all just tragic and terrible and the rest of their life is going to be terrible and full of guilt and repentance and it would just be really nice to have some characters in a book have sex and enjoy it and not feel dreadful afterwards or find out that they are related.

Aside from that plot thing, I really loved the world and the writing, and I think I would cautiously read further writing by Jeanette Ng. I just really hope there’s no incest.

Rating: read this book. Feel terribly conflicted.

For anyone looking for fantasy with, yanno, a sex-positive attitude to women, I would personally recommend The Song of the Lionness Quartet by Tamora Pierce (Alanna: The First AdventureIn the Hands of the GoddessThe Woman Who Rides Like a Man and Lionness Rampant). Very different genre from this book, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind!

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Tales From Tantamount: September of the Year of the Sad Plastic Bag

The triumphant return of Tantamount from holiday! Krakens! Prophecies! Libraries! Really bad proverbs!


Dear Citi/Denizen,
We are returned! A little sunstruck, minus some extraneous people and plus some sand and useless tat. We were going to show you holiday photographs, but were informed that this would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and anyway, the squirrel ate them.
So instead, dear citi/denizen, we shall simply enfold you to the bristling, quixotic and chthonic bosom of our town.

Welcome back to Tantamount.

Headlines in Tantamount
The Amount-as-Much Shouter
Royal wedding madness as Janice and the Eldritch Terror tie the knot, literally! Photos on the centre spread.
Source close to the Eldritch Terror leaks news that Janice and the Eldritch Terror both pregnant p2
Ingenuk Explorer
Atlantis definitely gone now p5
Septic, spirit of September, takes root in Valevalleyinclineditch Park p7-8
Tantamount Life
Gay flamingoes move into the lake of the Serendipitous Squid, greatly improve everything p2

The energy board takes no responsibility for incorrectly handled Salamanders. Please use the tongs provided, and say the traditional fire chant: “Oh it’s hot it’s hot it’s hothothot.”
Most Salamanders are housetrained and can safely be transferred to your radiators in preparation for the Winter months. Large properties should look into dragons. They may look back.

Weather report: today the weather  was an egg, speckled with happiness. The robins were not pleased.

The Tourist Information Centre has moved to the junction of Angrywoman Road and Shadowy Lane. It is the building on stilts with the neon sign and the inappropriate windows.  Anyone visiting Tantamount must go to the Tourist Information Centre for orientation and protective gear. There are also maps, but these are relatively useless because everything moves.

Proverb of the day: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they quick to anger and have big egos. Found on a note near a well, possibly with a woman in it.
Tantamount has a periodical wizard infestation. Suddenly they all turn up, in their robes with their staffs and their beards and their genderbinary notions. Autumn often sees a spate of wizards. Usually they are seen off through October by gangs of seasonal  witches, but in case you encounter one we advise you to:

  1. Refuse them entry to your home.
  2. Refuse their quests, and not sign anything.
  3. Hurl peppermint tea at them – wizards are known to be susceptible and will often fall into a herbal tea coma. In this state you can safely cut off their beards and hurl them into the river.

Tantamount Shadow Council

We are warm and safe and full of books. Our librarians are bird women with kind hands and sharp eyes. The tea is free, and the ghosts are friendly. We like people. Come to the library.

Please do not kick the piles of leaves. Small children will be forgiven, but the gnomes will be upset by repeated kicking and they will set hordes of hedgehogs on you.
Tantamount Shadow CounciL

Autumn Dance Retreat
In the red-gold room at the Subscription Rooms, 10am, Saturday, Tickets T10 to equivalent barterage.
Filomena Equivaas dances into Autumn. Bring conkers, leaves, boots, and fifteen layers of clothes. All ages and abilities welcome. We shall dance, shuffle, roll, or wave our arms in the air to celebrate the seasonal shift. Filomena will be leading with simple dance moves, and Aethel will be on hand for karmic counselling.
At the end of the retreat we will go to Valevalleyinclineditch Park  to dance around Septic in welcome. Pointy hats optional.

“Magpies swirl through the sky in mighty tidings. The moon glows red, the wandering daughter returns and the river bursts free at the darkest day. Release release release” The Town Madwoman, while fetching her laundry in, to an audience of squirrels, one toddler, and a gossipy dryad.

LOST: Entire District Council. Last seen  in a gondola heading east. Please contact Seren xxxxx 291 70 or come to the bridge.
LOST:  All memories of my PHD in quantum cartography. Please return. Amelie xxxxx 728912
FOUND: Deerhide cloak, painted in swirling patterns, suspicious smell.  Andred xxxxx 222124
FOUND: A whistling on the wind, currently trapped in a jar. Catchy tune. xxxxx 727160
FOR SALE: My grandmother’s teeth. In good shape, a little haunted, amenable to light spellwork. Jack xxxxx 227289

The sky is full of mist. Mist can become heavy and fall abruptly and without warning. We recommend that, if you live in an area susceptible to mist, you invest in a hardhat.
Tantamount Shadow Council.

RE: Hello?
TO: management@pinprick.tan
FROM: lauralovelace@hotmail.tan
Thora? Are you there? Please reply!

Woooooooooooooooo! Finally, we’re back on with Tantamount! I am hoping to find time to write the next few in advance, so this should stay on track now. Hope you enjoyed the return of the silliness, and I should be able to get a few book reviews in soon as well. Remember, if you enjoyed it you can always buy me a coffee online – this is in no way mandatory!

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Tales From Tantamount: A Postcard From a Town. Number Four


Postcard four. Image is waterdamaged. It appears to show a landscape, or is it seaweed? There are people in the landscape, part of it. They have sharp teeth. They appear to be playing a game, perhaps with a stick. You really hope that that is a stick. Parts of image are blurred by water, and they worry you. Attached to the postcard is a flat sweetie with a heart on it. It bears the words I could just eat you up.

Dear Citi/denizen.
We miss you. We have eaten too many croissants and (illegible text) makes the pelican seem like a dream, to be honest. There have been altogether too many screens and screaming banshees, but who can blame them? We (illegible text; the words hill, Severn and Apostate can all be made out, as well as a word that could be maggie,magpie, or maquis) eternal rivers. Anyway, there are so very many delicious secrets to be found here, and we are thinking of staying for some time. The maelids say to send their love, and the District Council is behaving itself splendidly. We have yet to confirm whether Amelie Ng is actually having a wild affair, but will let you know as soon as we do.

Hello! So I am still getting used to the new job, hence why you are still receiving postcards. I have a few book reviews in the works once I get settled in, and hopefully some full length Tantamount instalments. Hoping your Summers are going well 🙂

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Tales From Tantamount: A Postcard From a Town. Number three



Postcard three: image shows a row of electrical pylons. Sylphs are using the wires as a slide. Below, a sounder of boar  frolic through a river, or are perhaps part of it. A terrifyingly cheerful child waves at you from the corner of the postcard, dressed in yellow dungarees. Attached to the postcard is a feeling of longing tinged with smugness.

Dear Citi/Denizen,
how goes your week? We hope Limbo/Jobcentre is treating you well. Have you filled out all the appropriate forms? We forgot to remind you in our previous postcards, but you have to fill out the correct forms every week. Otherwise, your benefits will be docked, and your soul will be fed to the man with the snakes in his eyes. The forms are only a little hellish, and you are of course not allowed to check the previous forms to make sure you are saying the same things. That would be cheating.
This week, we visited Atlantis. It was a bit wet. The Carrion enjoyed it a lot, and are still digesting it, which has made them slow. Weather continues lovely and scattered with haikus. The Eldritch Terror and Janice the Kraken have moved into the Library, which appears to be displeased and keeps vanishing and reappearing all the time. The cheese here is very good, and we recommend it.
We have attached this feeling, stolen from a resident of Old Faethm, to the postcard. We think it will help you miss us properly, if you are not already.


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Tales From Tantamount: A Postcard from a Town. Number Two

KEEP CALM AND CARRION – further correspondence from the wandering town of Tantamount, which is having a better holiday than us, the bastard.

Postcard two: image shows a pair of goats frolicking around a fire. One of the goats is playing a violin, while the other simply dances. The fire is surrounded by trees on all sides, in which there are mildly disturbing shadows. The smoke from the fire is forming odd sigils, and in the foreground are a pair of turquoise converse. Attached to the postcard is a red grape in a silk bag.
Dear Citi/Denizen,
Well, what an exciting week! This week we did wine tasting in a cave filled with the mummified remains of unhappy vampires, and paddled in the sea with our collective trousers rolled up. The Carrion took rather a lot of beachgoers, who have been lying in the sand suffering Spiritual Dislocation and other things ever since. We have named the Kraken Janice. There is a tram system running, and it irritates our buildings. Teenagers keep leaving rubbish in our streets, so we have eaten them. We hope Limbo proceeds well – we have sent you one of the grapes from the vineyards to keep you going. Do be wary of hallucinogenic properties and sudden Poetry.


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Tales From Tantamount: A Postcard from a Town. Number One


Tantamount appears to have gone on holiday. It will send you postcards at irregular intervals until it returns, probably in September.

Postcard one: image displays a pleasant landscape, complete with a family of skeletons dressed in Georgian clothing and bearing double-headed axes. They have a skeleton dog, and what appears to be a skeletal parakeet. A strange stone with scratchy markings was attached. The postcard reads: Dear Citi/Denizen. It has come to our attention that you were not with us when we left for holiday, and you are now loitering in the terrible fogs of limbo, or possibly the Job Centre (we conflated the two in the Year of the Yellow-Eyed Newt in order to save space). Do not despair. Tantamount has every intention of returning to collect you, once we have enjoyed our holiday. We are currently having a lovely time at the beach. There has only been one Kraken, and after we introduced the Eldritch Terror they got along well. Perhaps too well. Remember that we do care about you deeply, just not enough to cut our holiday short. We have sellotaped a rune of healing to this postcard – we hope it helps!

Best wishes,

Tantamount District Council

I’m not actually on holiday, I’m training for a new job. But I sent Tantamount on holiday just for fun 🙂

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New Book!

Look at this gorgeous new book! Should I wait until I’ve finished Sandman? Or just dive in? Decisions decisions….

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