This review contains spoilers.
Almost six years after the events of Wildwood Dancing, Paula is excited and nervous to be leaving Transylvania for the first time. She and her merchant father are headed to Istanbul, where rumors of an ancient artifact hang in the air like smoke.
The artifact is Cybele’s Gift, a relic of a lost religion rumored to be engraved with the last words of an ancient deity. Competition over the relic is fierce, with one bidder already found dead.
Paula is officially her father’s assistant, but being a woman in Istanbul makes it difficult to serve in that capacity. Her bodyguard Stoyan sticks to her like glue, and even a local pirate-turned trader named Duarte seems interested in keeping her safe. Her only respite is the home of Irene of Volos, a local scholar dedicated to providing women with a place to study.
It’s in Irene’s library that Paula stumbles upon more of Cybele’s secrets, and where visions of her sister Tatiana lead her to believe that the Other Kingdom is not as closed to her as it may appear.
Nothing remains secret for long in Istanbul, and soon Paula finds herself at the middle of a centuries-old and deadly riddle that only she can solve.
Well…that was a book
While most club members enjoyed Wildwood Dancing, we were pretty well divided on this second in Juliet Marillier’s series. The people who liked it enjoyed the plot, and the people who didn’t like found the entire novel rather boring.
I fell into the latter category. The first 100+ pages felt a lot like filler, with the actual adventure getting a delayed start.
In typical YA fashion, there was also a love triangle, but most of us didn’t find either of the gentlemen (or even the lady) very compelling. It didn’t feel like there was genuine love between any of the characters — just an initial fascination and the vague ability to carry on conversations together.
We did all agree that the novel’s setting made it hard for us to connect. Istanbul is not a place any of us know much about, and its (constantly, annoyingly stated) aversion to women going anywhere alone or doing anything alone rubbed us all the wrong way. Personally I felt like the author crammed in as much “culture talk” as possible simply because she’d done all the research and was going to include it, come hell or high water.
A couple people found the ending a little anticlimactic, but overall most of us thought it was a good choice. Cybele’s last words — the secret carved on her artifact — were not a curse or supernatural blessing, but rather an encouragement to take care of the world around you. Not what we were expecting, but still interesting.
Cybele’s Secret leaves plenty of room for the series to continue, but I don’t think any of us will continue reading. There’s just too many great books out there to read stuff you don’t love.