Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.
I got this book as an ARC from Angry Robot last year and despite it looking amazing I just somehow never actually got around to reading it for ages. I’m quite glad I waited now as it means I can use it for the 2018 Fantasy Bingo challenge.
So, this book is set in the land of the fae, called Arcadia, and our main characters are a missionary and his sister. It’s set during the Victorian Era and Cathy, the main character, has set off to discover what has happened to her brother. While in Arcadia, she’s also trying to discover what happened to the previous missionary who disappeared.
Now, I adored this book almost from the very beginning due to one particularly excellent quote describing the location of Arcadia ‘It was said to be underground, but not. It overlaid our own, but not. It was another place, but not.” This is one of the best descriptions I’ve read for describing the magical “Otherworld” found in so many Celtic texts. I know the author is a medievalist, and all that knowledge has really helped bring the worldbuilding to life. In particular, the fact that the only way to find Arcadia is by getting lost is an aspect I really like – it reminds me a lot of the medieval Irish voyage tales where they get blown off course and then discover magical islands.
Our main character, Cathy, is brilliant and I fell in love with her. Due to the time period, as a woman, she naturally struggled with her place in society and so jumped at the chance to visit Arcadia. While in Arcadia, she stays at Gethsemane along with three intriguing characters – Mr Benjamin is a convert from the previous missionary, Ariel Davenport is a Changeling from London who serves as Cathy’s guide and finally, there is the mysterious Salamander. The majority of the book is set in Gethsemane surrounding the actions and conversations of these characters and I just loved it. We get snippets of Ariel’s life before she discovered she was a changeling, we get Mr Benjamin wanting to discuss Theology and how he fits into it as a fae and we get tiny snippets of Salamander. I was not so much a fan of Laon, but that’s mostly just because I loved Cathy so much. She adores Laon and I just kept thinking to myself “But Cathy, you’re so much better than him!”
The writing is brilliant and one aspect I adored was that the beginning of each chapter contains historical quotations, often adapted to be referring to the fae. I love it when novels do this as it’s another great glimpse into the worldbuilding that goes on, plus it was extra fun seeing which quotations were from authors I recognised from my own studies.
To conclude, this is a fantastic novel focusing on the Fae that has had an incredible amount of research put into it. If you’re looking for a Fae novel for the Fantasy Bingo then this is definitely a great pick. If you want a book set in the Victorian period but with fae? This is for you! Finally, if you strong worldbuilding and interesting characters, this is for you! Basically, I really love this book and would highly recommend it!