It’s an ingenious concept, one that instantly drew me in when I read the back of the book, and it definitely delivers. Ng creates a whole world out of one location, packed with secrets and stories that hint at the larger one beyond. Her depiction of the Fae shies away from the popular conception of them as cute little pixies, instead making them seem cunning and dangerous. The way she described them is vivid and imaginative, especially as the ruler of the Fae, Queen Mab, brings her court to the castle.
Catherine is a compelling lead character, propelled by a curiosity about Arcadia that goes beyond concern for her brother. Her inner conflict as the impossible realities of fairyland clash with her Christian beliefs is well articulated, as is her complex relationship with her brother. Through her, Ng raises questions about the nature of truth, belief, and stories, and doesn’t provide any straightforward answers.
A small thing I liked were the quotations at the start of each chapter. Some of these are in-universe writings of the characters, while others are real-life texts from the Victorian era – including poems, hymns, and scientific writings – that Ng has amended to be about the Fae. They provided a small window into how Arcadia and the Fae are perceived by the wider world, and contextualised some of the characters’ actions.
The one problem with the novel is padding. Ng has chosen to restrict her action to the one castle, which means she has to keep finding things for her main character to do. As such, certain types of scenes tend to repeat themselves, making the book feel longer than it needs to be. However, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment, and the flow of the narrative was never held up.
The ‘pendulum sun’ of the title is the sun of Arcadia, which moves in an arc over the land. It’s one of many small details that bring the world of the Fae to life. Ng has infused her novel with the spirit of the great Gothic classics, crafting a smart, literate, and disturbing ode to the power of the imagination. I highly recommend it.
Review by Charlie Alcock