Amazing stories have different effects on different people, and sometimes different effects on the same people. Sometimes when I finish an amazing book, I want to run out and read everything else by that author and even in that genre, hoping for more of the same. Other times I want to take a break from reading anything, even other books by the same author, just to savor the memory and give myself a chance to return to realistic expectations. Because really, some books are just so good it seems impossible that others will measure up to their standard.
Wildwood Dancing was one of those books for me. I finished it, and I knew I need a breather to before entering into any other fictional world. When I did return to reading, I did not pick up the companion novel for a long time.
Then one day I decided I was ready. I picked up Cybele's Secret, and I read. And read. And read.
It might be awhile before I read again.
If I had any subconscious fears that Cybele's Secret would not live up to Wildwood Dancing, I was happily mistaken. Although this companion novel is set in a completely different part of the world, following the story of a completely different sister with a completely different personality, this story has equal heart, wisdom, and beauty.
Set six years after Wildwood Dancing, Cybele's Secret tells the story of Paula, know as the scholarly sister in the family, as she sets out on a journey that takes her from her home in Transylvania to the far off and intriguing culture of Istanbul. If able to obtain the highly mysterious ancient artifact known as Cybele's Gift, Paula's entire family will be set for life, and her dream of becoming a trader of books and manuscripts, despite being a young woman in the early 1500s, might become a reality. When it becomes clear that familiar magical forces are at work, Paula sets out on a quest to assist them in the hope of ensuring her family's fortune and her own future.
Strong female leads and love triangles are cliches that crop up so often I am embarrassed to admit they are tending to peeve me a bit these days, but Juliet Marillier knows how to write both with the depth and purpose that makes me remember the power behind those two themes, the oomph that inspires such repetition.
I think one of the biggest strengths of the writing is its subtlety. You never feel like the themes are punching you in the face, yelling for your attention as if you never would have noticed without such harassment. As in real life, realization dawns slowly, naturally, and with the pure delight of discovery. As Paula's eyes open, we see and learn alongside her. And what she sees is amazing.
I am weird in that often chick flicks depress me. Stories filled with emotional manipulation, constant breakups, and "following the heart" on wild goose chases make me feel like true, lasting, meaningful love is dying. That doesn't mean I don't like romances though. A well written romance is beautiful and triumphant. Even if it does (as real life does) include bits of what I hate from chick flicks, it doesn't hold that up as what we must resign ourselves to if we want to be with another person. It reminds us that true love requires sacrifices and selflessness but gives us a world greater than we could have ever imagined. Great romances counteract the messages of the crappy romances and give us hope if we haven't found it or remind us of how blessed we are if we have found it.
I hesitate to comment on female strength in fiction, but let me at least say that in this area as well Juliet Marillier brilliantly unveils multifaceted gems rather than cardboard cutouts, and she does so without ever resorting to a soapbox. I was quite curious to see the direction she took the story, and she never took an easy or disappointing way out.
So needless to say, I highly recommend Cybele's Secret, of course after you've finished Wildwood Dancing. If I have done a poor job making the books sound incredible, just take a closer look at their covers! Kinuko Y. Craft's stunning artwork is not only breathtakingly gorgeous, but the detail is mindboggling. After finishing the books, I can't stop peeking over at them and noticing more tiny and yet brilliantly accurate details. I have never seen a set of covers that seemed more like an author's perfect dream. I would love to hang these on my walls.