Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier

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Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: A stand-alone-readable sequel to Wildwood Dancing, this is more of an adventure then a fairy romance, though the supernatural makes plenty enough appearances and the boy-girl angle also figures. Entertanining and even educational, but marred by stilted dialogue, it can be nevertheless recommended for teenagers, fans of the genere or those looking for a travel-cum-mystery set in early modern Istanbul.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: December 2007
Publisher: Tor
ISBN: 978-1405052054

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Cybele's Secret is a sequel to Wildwood Dancing, but can be easily read as a stand-alone-novel. It's narrated by Paula, the scholarly of the sisters that were introduced in the previous novel, and it follows her on a trading trip to Istanbul with her father. It's not a normal trip, though, as they are looking to purchase a mysterious and ancient artifact known as Cybele's Gift. It links to mysterious old cult, possibly undergoing revival and has supposedly magical powers, able to bring amazing rewards, but in the wrong hands capable of inflicting great misery.

There is a strong adventure element in Cybele's Secret: it reminded me of the travel-and-exploration novels I read as a child in which a character, usually a young one, visits exotic locations and learns about different places and cultures, often while performing feats of bravery and/or chivalry. The evocation of Ottoman Istanbul is excellent in Cybele's Secret, and the "edutainment" parts link fairly seamlessly to the main narrative. I enjoyed that a lot, and I also liked the narrator and the main character: strong willed, confident, intelligent and mostly sensible, but not without weaknesses to overcome (after all, an adventure without moral and character trial is an empty one). The love angle is subtle, but exciting enough, what with a dashing, cultured, nobleman-pirate (!!) and a dependable and astute but illiterate Bulgar bodyguard.

Those expecting an instant plunge into the world of the supernatural and fey like it happened in the Wildwood Dancing are likely to be disappointed: there are only hints and glimpses at first, though later parts of the book make up for it and I thought the introduction-to-Istanbul buildup was good in itself.

My main gripe with Cybele's Secret and the main reason for removing half a star from the rating is the level of anachronism in it, mostly relating to the theme of female empowerment. Both Paula and other characters espousing these ideas speak (and sometimes even think) like modern sociologists: I am a strong supporter of opportunities for women, which places me severely out of step with the culture in which I live. There is nothing wrong with the idea there but the way it's expressed sounds completely wrong for the time and the setting of the novel. I found the constant use of the word culture in its modern, socio-anthropological sense particularly grating. Cybele's Secret is set in time unspecified, but considering that Paula's father wears merchant robes, there is no sight of steamships and the Sultan resides in the Topkapi Palace, author's afterword refers to early Ottoman, my own guess was some time in the 16th or 17th century. The dialogue is generally slightly stilted and unnatural: this can be possibly explained by the fact that it's often conducted in Greek, which is not the first language for most involved, but still jars; and some of the narration is the same.

Apart from that, though, Cybele's Secret is a very enjoyable adventure fantasy with a strong romantic streak. It reminded me of Dan Brown (but, despite occasionally stilted style, it is considerably better written) and had some of the same spirit that animated Indiana Jones films (though much less masculine action). I liked it better than the first book from the series, mostly because of the adventure in exotic locations element being so prominent, and readers who like a puzzle, a romance and an exotic setting will enjoy it too.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For a wonderful, evocative and totally convincing story of the past with a strong female lead, great other characters, a lot of adventure and a sprinkle of romance, look no further than Gatty's Tale. Older teens will appreciate The Map of Time by Felix J Palma.

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