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Literature / Under the Pendulum Sun

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Under the Pendulum Sun is the 2017 debut novel of Jeannette Ng. It was a finalist for the 2018 British Fantasy Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and earned Ng the Best Newcomer award.

In Victorian era, Catherine Helstone travels into the heart of the newly discovered lands of the The Fair Folk, in search of her brother Laon, a missionary who disappeared while trying to convert the fae to Christianity.


  • Accent Slip-Up: The gnome Mr. Benjamin affects a proper Oxford accent among other human customs he's adopted, but slips into an unplaceable Fae accent when he's distracted or distraught.
  • Alien Geometries:
    • Subverted Trope
      Catherine: How far to Gethsemane?
      Coachman: Two revelations and an epiphany? No, there has to be a shortcut… Two painful memories and a daydr—
      Miss Davenport: Sixteen miles. It is sixteen miles away. We'll arrive well before dark. [glaring at the coachman] He says that for the tourists.
    • Double Subversion
      Coachman: Distances don't work like they do where you were. In Arcadia it's about the journey, and I thought I'd count yours instead of mine. But you were slow. And should've made sure those revelations be true, since fake ones don't count. They just loop me right round, you know? Gets me real lost.
  • Alternate History: The Point of Divergence is that Captain Cook discovered the Faelands.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Reverend Roche's journal increasingly paranoid and stressed out as the entries go on.
  • Artificial Human: The changelings that faeries leave in place of their human kidnapping victims appear perfectly human, right down to sharing the original's memories, but don't need food (though they still feel hunger) and always feel somehow out of place in their human lives.
  • Bald Mystic: In her human form, the Salamander looks like an ash-white bald woman with a snake tail instead of legs. When her powers manifest, she gains Flaming Hair and eyebrows.
  • Beta Couple: Penemue and Kasdaye provide the Helstones with a model of siblings who openly flirt with each other.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Gethsemane is a castle built in a senseless mishmash of architectural styles, with other elements imported piecemeal. Cathy originally believes it was expanded over centuries, but realizes the whole thing is one huge set piece.
  • Bleed 'Em and Weep: Cathy kills Miss Davenport at her own request, and is a mess about it.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Cathy and Laon have been in love since childhood. Laon had his Love Epiphany years ago. Cathy—despite mentioning her feelings for Laon after some fashion frequently—hasn't quite admitted it to herself yet. Invoked Trope, in that Mab summoned Cathy to Arcadia deliberately so they'd get together.
  • Child of Two Worlds: Changelings spend their early lives truly believing that they're the humans they replaced, then get exposed and recalled to Arcadia by the fae. Neither human nor truly fae, they're out of place in both worlds, which causes Ariel a fair bit of Supernatural Angst.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Very much a Downplayed Trope—Cathy keeps it under wraps, she doesn't say or do anything about it. But since she is the narrator we are privy to her feelings, and she side-eyes the relationships between Laon and just about every woman he crosses paths with.
  • Constantly Curious: Mr Benjamin constantly asks Catherine questions about theology. Half the time she doesn't know the answers and tells him he should ask Laon when he returns.
  • Eating Optional: Changelings don't need to eat, but feel hunger if they go without food.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Each chapter begins thusly. In the mix there are also a few are from real world documents, like The Bible, The Raven, Queen Mab, and newspaper articles.
  • Exposition Beam: The semiotic moths can mentally transmit the knowledge from the books they've eaten. When a huge swarm in a Magical Library does this to Catherine, she's left reeling by the onslaught of random data, but is eventually able to sift out the answers to her questions before the information starts to fade from her mind.
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: One such makes a cameo at the masquerade.
    Thunder rumbled in the distance, and a red-capped man stood in the centre. He waved at another of the fae and I saw that he had eyes in the middle of his palms and that those eyes were weeping blood.
  • The Fair Folk: The fae very much fit this model.
  • Fictional Accent: The gnome Mr. Benjamin affects a proper Oxford accent among other human customs, but sometimes slips into a Fae accent with no earthly equivalent.
  • First-Name Basis: Catherine calls her Miss Davenport, but Laon calls her Ariel. This familiarity bothers Catherine.
  • Food Chains: Food in the Faelands is made safe by salt from human lands, poured by human hands. Some dishes literally give up and lose their Glamour as the salt touches them. One character tried receiving communion unsalted as a gesture of faith, and was bound to the Faelands as a result.
  • Forbidden Fruit:
    Mab: And if I had not forbidden you to read Roche's journals, would you have read it? I made it all the sweeter for being forbidden fruit. I made you all the more curious.
  • Geas:
    Miss Davenport: There's a geas that knows you.
    Catherine: A geas?
    Miss Davenport: A ban, though some call it fate. It keeps your brother and those of his blood safe. The Pale Queen has promised him that he and those of his blood would not die in these walls and it protects you because you're staying within them. They can't touch you here, no matter how much they want to.
  • Geeky Analogy: Cathy assumes the clock-maker is making a joke based on a biblical reference. He's not. When she tries to explain it, it goes right over his head.
  • Impossible Hourglass Figure: Queen Mab invokes this with one of her outfits, giving herself an inhumanly tiny waist that's corseted in black-and-gold and skirted in literal wasp wings.
    Mab: I read that a wasp waist is the very height of fashion.
  • Inside Joke: Cathy and Laon have one about ambergris.
    When we were little, we had found a recipe for the most excellent negus that called for grating ambergris over each serving and we had laughed at the sheer extravagance of the idea.
  • I Will Find You: Catherine's quest is to go find Laon.
  • Language of Magic: Catherine is into the idea that Enochian is this.
    I wanted it to mean more. I wanted it to confirm my wild theories of this being the language of angels, stolen and preserved by the fae. I wanted this to be that sacred first language that God spoke to create the world, that He taught to Adam and that was sundered at Babel.
  • Literally Falling in Love: When Cathy and Laon reunite, Laon has an injured ankle and is walking with a cane. He discards the cane, runs to her, and they share a glomp hug. For a moment Laon is balanced against Cathy but then they topple over. It's USTy. When Mr Benjamin interrupts them as a Moment Killer, Cathy is embarrassed.
  • Love Confession
    Laon: Cathy… I adore you, treasure you, desire you. Beyond reason. Beyond hope.
  • Masquerade Ball: Mab calls for having one—a winter themed one in the middle of summer.
  • The Missionary: Laon became a priest, but he had the heart of an adventurer. This combination lead him to become a missionary.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Cathy wakes up the morning after having sex, and when she sits up in bed and the blanket comes down she suddenly gets embarrassed. Lampshaded:
    Laon: I have seen you naked already. I've even dressed you.
    Cathy: That's not the point.
    Laon: And I do intend to see you naked again.
    Cathy: I intend to let you, but it's still hardly proper.
  • Moment Killer: Cathy and Laon are doing a Held Gaze when the trumpets for the hunt sound and they have to go.
    Cathy: The Pale Queen is summoning us.
  • Mysterious Mist: The "uncultivated" regions of the Land of Faerie are blanketed in mist that responds to the mortal subconscious, conjuring up barely-substantial people, scenery, and whatever else they might literally dream up.
    Cathy: But what is it out there when- when it's not mist?
    Laon: Dreams. Thoughts. Things our minds give shape to.
  • Never Sent Any Letters: Cathy is sent to the Faelands by the missionary society, to follow up on her brother Laon who's there. Near the end of the book, Laon gets this letter:
    The Society has recently received correspondence from your sister, Catherine Helstone, who appears to be under the impression that we both approve of and are financing her passage to Arcadia. This is not the case. We could but surmise that someone has been writing to her using our name. We have no idea why anyone would attempt such, but it is possible that they are trying to bring disrepute to the Society's good name. We urge you to proceed with the utmost caution…
  • Not Blood Siblings: Cathy learns she is a changeling, not actually Laon's blood sister, and they soon begin a pseudo-incestuous relationship. Subverted Trope when it turns out that was untrue—she's not a changeling and they actually are blood siblings.
  • Painting the Frost on Windows: In the Land of Faerie, there are fae whose job it is to draw hoarfrost with quill pens, sew up snowstorms, and wither flowers with a paint brush, since it's an Eldritch Location where such things don't happen naturally.
  • Scrubbing Off the Trauma: A discussed example:
    Day and night, I found myself washing my hands over and over. Not so much because I believed them stained with blood, but that I wanted to feel that guilt. I wanted that sweet madness that Lady Macbeth once felt. For all the deed weighed upon me, for all the echoes of it I saw behind my closed eyes, it was not enough.
  • Sex for Solace: After killing Miss Davenport and being told she's a changeling, Cathy and Laon have sex about half for solace, half just because they want to.
  • Shout-Out:
    • As the Good Book Says...: Laon is a priest, and Cathy knows her Bible pretty well too, and they quote it a fair amount.
    • Cathy compares herself to Lynette in Le Morte d'Arthur: Man A being recruited by Woman B to rescue Woman C, and Woman B is in love with Man A.
      I was the only one who knew of the stolen woman that Mab kept somewhere in the castle. There were times I would imagine rescuing her, leading Laon to her like a damsel in Le Morte d'Arthur. I would then remember the story of Sir Gareth of Orkney, known as Beaumains, guided on a quest by Lynette to save her sister Lyonesse. My brother would insist that Lynette was secretly in love with the knight and that the ending was pointlessly tragic.
  • Shower of Angst: After killing Miss Davenport Cathy takes an angsty bath.
  • Speak of the Devil: Don't call Mab by her name; "The Pale Queen" is a satisfactory substitute. People repeatedly caution Catherine against this, and an icy wind blows out her lantern when she does so anyway. Someone immediately cuts her off when she starts to speak a vastly older name, Lilith.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: The Fae Queen Mab has distinctive golden eyes that the narration frequently compares to an Ominous Owl's.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Catherine is affronted when Miss Davenport calls her Cathy, despite not acting like her friend.
    Miss Davenport: You should try to be still. Please, Cathy.
    Catherine: [recoils] You have no right to address me as such. We are not friends.
    Miss Davenport: But, Catherine—
    Catherine: You tell me nothing. We talk and we talk and yet you forever keep me in ignorance and darkness. You keep saying this castle is built on secrets but we cannot build a friendship on—
  • Thunder = Downpour: Not rain, but a snowstorm, during the masquerade.
  • Traveling at the Speed of Plot: The coachman literally does this, since "in Arcadia it's about the journey". As such, he's slow to deliver an important letter because the voyage took "two revelations and an epiphany" and Catherine took a long time to work out the truth.
  • Victorian Britain: In chapter 2, Catherine makes reference to Queen Victoria's wedding dress, and says the wedding was 7 years ago. Since that wedding was in 1840, the book is set in 1847.
    ...wide necked and layered in lace, it reminded me of the etchings of the queen's wedding dress and the subsequent efforts to imitate it in the seven years since.
  • Weird Moon: The "fish moon"—an anglerfish swimming in the sky.
  • Weird Sun: The eponymous "pendulum sun".
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: At the masquerade ball, the clock chimes 12 as Cathy runs back to her room.