So the basic premise of Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun is that in the age of British imperialism, they also discovered Arcadia, the mystical land of the Fae… and proceeded to go about sending missionaries and traders and so forth there, just as much as they did to any other “heathen” place.

Neat premise, but unfortunately it gets executed in the form of a gothic tale of misery and horror. A missionary has been in Arcadia for some time, and his sister gets worried about him, and decides to go for a visit. When she arrives, she finds a faerieland that is inscrutable and incomprehensible to mortals, on her way to the creepy old mansion (named “Gethsemane”) where her brother has been staying.

From there it gets less and less pleasant, as dark secrets are exposed on the way to the revelation of even darker secrets, horrors pile upon horrors, and all the characters descend into their own personal nightmares.

Objectively speaking, this is a good book. Ng has built something that’s unlike any other fairy story I’ve read; and it engages with religion more deeply than I’ve seen outside of, say, Lent, with which it shares some common themes, now that I think about it.

But it was deeply, deeply unpleasant to read, and I can’t really recommend it, unless gothic tragedy in elfland is the aesthetic you’re looking for.


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