Cybele's Secretby Juliet Marillier
Book 2 of Wildwood
~ Goodreads ~
Rating: 3.5 Stars
It's been some time since reading the first book in this duology, Wildwood Dancing. And while some details are quite memorable, others are a little hard for me to recall without digging out my review and refreshing my memory.
There is one thing that I can say for certain: Juliet Marillier's writing is forever and always magically amazing! There's just something about her use of words, her imaginative creations, and her interesting characters... And to repeat myself from my review of Wildwood Dancing, she has a way with her creativity that allows you to see her world and her setting so vividly--though Cybele's Secret DOES take place in the real world more than the fantasy world, it still feels like a fantasy world with all the mystical, magical elements presenting themselves.
On a side note, or two:
I had gone into Cybele's Secret thinking that, like Wildwood Dancing, it was based on some fairy tale. But it quickly became apparent that this second book is a story of it's own, based in the same fantastical world Marillier had created from the first book. There is really no retelling in sight, and instead, she makes use of the mythical Anatolian goddess, Cybele, to build a quest for our main characters.
Second, I can readily say that I personally liked Cybele's Secret more than Wildwood Dancing; however, Cybele's is less memorable for the fact that it DID tend to drag out in a monotonous way as the story build-up progressed in the beginning.
Paula travels with her father to Istanbul as his assistant, determined to show him that she is capable of helping him work his trade, as well as acquire a special item that must remain a secret from others in merchant circles. It is called Cybele's Gift, and very few know of it's existence, and any mention of this item could bring forth unwanted attention from the wrong people, simply because of the symbolism Cybele's Gift stands for--an old religion that must be abolished by the mainstream cultures.
As Paula is now situated in a place where the culture for women is quite different than what she is used to, and could present as dangerous to her, Paula's father insists on hiring a bodyguard, both to escort her when necessary and to keep her safe. And so Stoyan, a large, dark-haired Bulgarian man-boy enters the picture. Even as Paula goes about her day-to-day, assisting her father with his trade business, conducting her own research at the revered Irene of Volos's sacred learning sanctuary for women, she seems to have picked up a quest given her from the Other Kingdom.
The Other Kingdom is the fantastical world she and her sisters had gone to often years prior, where they partook in the magical festivities of the fairy folk, such as dancing and feasting. Paula, herself, had always spent her time there in conversation with the more scholarly folk. But the portal had been long since closed to the sisters, and so now that something presenting itself from the Other Kingdom has made its appearance, Paula has found herself more than excited for a chance to see what is going on.
Because whatever the quest she's been given, it might also pertain to Cybele's Gift, as well as her now lost sister Tatiana. And meanwhile, the acquisition of said item might not be as secret as Paula and her father thought it was, since many others have been invited to its viewing, including the dashing, infamously known Portuguese pirate Duarte da Costa Aguiar, who seems to have taken a shine to Paula.
I must admit, even though nothing really stands out about Cybele's Secret, I DID really enjoy reading it. But there is also a whole lot of story going on in this one book as well, and I can't help but notice that, even though everything is, indeed, based around one quest and one progressing story line, the book sort of, almost, feels like two (or maybe even three) separate stories. It's kind of like playing a video game with a introductory cut scene, then a "Part 1: Developing the Hero" stage where our main characters build up their inventory and knowledge for the future quest, and then we go on to "Part 2: The Quest" and actually go on the adventure to complete the quest. Then you get an epilogue of sorts, a "Part 3: After the Adventure" type of conclusion.
Of course, it's written rather more enchantingly than a simple video game walk-through... or even my own half-baked summary above.
Cybele's Secret is a well-written tale of myth, adventure, and inspirational lessons. But I have to admit, the awkward repetition given by Paula about how the Other Kingdom's quests are often laid out specifically to teach people lessons started getting a bit tedious after the third or fourth time she mentions it. I mean, what are fairy tales if not created to teach our youth some sort of story to live by? And I'm also going to admit that during the actual quest... really Paula seemed a bit useless as the brains of this expedition--the majority of the time, it was Stoyan who figured out each challenge and how to go about completing them. Answering a few riddles was all fine and dandy, and gives Paula a chance to showcase her scholarship and intelligence, but the rest of the time, she kind of just stands there and frets, which made me a little frustrated. Especially since we keep going on and on about how she's the smart one who knows how to solve all the puzzles thrown at her.
While I'm on my brief rant of what I didn't care for in this book: I didn't care for the awkward, forced insertion of our love triangle... if you could even call it that. Truth be told, the chemistry between Paula, Stoyan, and Duarte felt more like friendship than romance. And I can't help but to feel that a triangle was inserted more for the sake of having a love triangle rather than that it made sense.
But aside from that, I DID absolutely enjoy Cybele's Secret, and found the interaction Paula had with all the characters, including her love interests, quite intriguing. The discussions she had with both Stoyan and Duarte were intelligent and thoughtful. Her interactions with Irene were inspirational.
The story line and progression were easy to follow, unfolding smoothly as each event presented. Well... all except for that little snag between the unofficial parts one and two (see above), where I really, really think that that scene happened because there was no other way to transition.
Meanwhile, the main villain of the story was really not so hard to spot when said villain starts displaying annoying erratic behavior, including being an uninvited busy body in Paula's life.
So... even as I finish writing this review, it occurs to me that I don't really know whether I truly liked this book more than the first of the Wildwood duology... or if maybe the two books kind of stand on equal footing. Admittedly, I was more frustrated with the young characters of Wildwood Dancing than our trio in Cybele's Secret--though Duarte DID come close to making me roll my eyes or head-desk a few times. Paula herself could have been a bit less love-struck--this seemed a bit out of character for her.