Author: Juliet Marillier
410 pages • £14.99
Beware of quick summaries. If we said that Cybele's Secret involved a young heroine visiting Ottoman-era Istanbul in search of a lost artefact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you know how it's going to play out. A dash of Indiana Jones/Lara Croft action, a few lost temples, a smattering of religious subtext, and a healthy dollop of girl power, as time permits.
Instead, it’s an odd one. Like its forerunner, Wildwood Dancing, Cybele has two basic premises. Firstly, there's an Other Kingdom that just loves mucking people around with quests and unsolicited destinies – and could frankly do with a punch in the hooter, if you ask us. Secondly, fantasy's tougher for girls. In this time period and culture, it’s made very clear that a young woman can only quest for lost items if she's also prepared to be quiet, mostly obedient and stay out of sight.
Despite being a young adult novel, Cybele is mature enough to treat this as a cultural issue, not something to spit tacks at. The real catch is that getting from there to the main story takes far too long, with the action largely restricted to sneaking off to a local scholar's females-only library, and bouncing between a pair of rogueish love interests. When the fantasy elements finally kick in, it's so late in the day that they almost seem to be from a different book – a historical treasure-hunt and an otherworld adventure smashed together like two blocks of oddly coloured clay.
The result is decent enough, but schizophrenic, and lacks the oomph needed to break away from the first book’s effectively small-scale story into the genuine adventure the summary above suggests.