01/04/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: TOR-UK. 410 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-330-43829-2.
check out website: www.toruk.com and www.panmacmillan.com and www.Julietmariller.com
'Cybele's Secret' continues the story of the family Juliet Marillier introduced in 'Wildwood Dancing', the Transylvanian merchant Teodor and his five lovely daughters. The first book was the story of Jena and her trials with the Other World.
Jena and her sisters used to go dancing with elves and faeries in the Other World every full moon but they found that the place is not all moonlight and roses. The rulers like to set challenges for folk to make them learn and grow in wisdom. If they fail, they can die.
Paula, the scholarly sister, is challenged in this book. Acting as his secretary, she goes to Istanbul with her father to purchase secretly Cybele's Gift, a small statue of a pagan goddess which a collector wants to acquire. A few other merchants also desire this valuable item but the sale is fraught with peril because the Ottoman Muslim's fiercely oppose paganism and there is also rumoured to be a small sect of Cybele worshippers who would do anything to get the statue. On arrival in Istanbul, they find that Teodor's contact, a Muslim merchant friend, has been murdered.
Because the task is dangerous, Paula's father hires a bodyguard, stoic, stolid Stoyan, a Bulgarian of hidden talents. Paula is quite fascinated by him. She also encounters a dashing Portuguese merchant, some say pirate, named Duarte da Costa Aguiar and is fascinated by him, too. Both men think a lot of her. You can see where this is going but the young adult girls at whom the book is aimed like a bit of romance. Paula also befriends Irene, an interesting and very wealthy Greek lady living in Istanbul and striving to be free and independent in that mucho macho culture.
The book is four hundred pages long and the first two hundred are slow, to be frank. Admittedly, this is the space to get to know the characters but it might have been a hastier process. Happily, the second half makes it worth the wait, galloping along at a good pace with enough plot twists to keep the suspense going. When the action is finished there is a romantic coda that was a bit too long for me but I suppose young adult females will love it.
They are the target audience and I don't count. It does strike me, though, that Marillier's romantic notions seem a bit old-fashioned for the modern British teenage female or at least the modern British teenage female as I perceive them from their media image - namely, cynical sluts in micro-minis getting plastered every weekend. I would be glad to be wrong about that. Given the distortions of the media, I probably am.
Still, I enjoyed the book. It also struck me that in an age when shared culture is vanishing, as we all watch different TV channels and read different books, fantasy fiction can provide some cross-over material between the sexes. In straight fiction, men read Freddy Forsyth and girls read Joanna Trolloppe or whatever girls read. Fantastic/Romantic fiction like this has a little something for both groups. Juliet Marillier's stuff won't ever be on my desert island book list but I quite like it and when I'm done I can pass it on to my girl-friend or my sister, giving us a shared cultural experience. That's nice.
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