Paula is accompanying her father to Constantinople on a trading trip. She might “only” be a seventeen-year-old girl, but she’s an intelligent, able assistant. They’re in search of an ancient religious artifact, Cybele’s Gift. Once in Constantinople, Paula starts seeing strange visions, visions that she feels sure are coming from the Other Kingdom, the fairy tale world next to ours. She learns that it’s her turn to go on a quest. Can she accomplish the task set for her?
I am so torn in rating this book. The beginning felt like it was at least a hundred pages too long. I don’t know exactly what could have been cut, I’m just left with the feeling that a lot of it was unnecessary. It was all character development and setup for the quest, but it got a little boring and I was feeling disappointed that this wasn’t as good as Wildwood Dancing. It was interesting to read the descriptions of Constantinople, but there should be a limit to setup. I read 200 pages before I really got into it, but once the story got going, it was a fantastic fairy tale with impossible challenges, riddles, dangerous pursuit, and all the stuff that make us love the old stories. I finished the rest in one sitting, on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out what happened next. Three stars for the first half, five stars for the second half, and we’ll average it out at four.
Paula is a woman ahead of her time. She loves to read and dreams of opening her own book trading business. She sometimes gets a little too lost in her own head though, and needs to be reminded that there is a whole real life to be lived outside of books. She also has a temper that gets her in trouble a few times. It took me a little while to warm up to her, but in the end I liked her almost as much as her sister Jena.
Duarte the pirate is a dashing, charismatic figure, and I was never quite sure what to make of him. There are hidden layers to the man, and it was fun to watch Paula sounding him out. I kept picturing him as Iñigo Montoya.
And then there’s Stoyan. Oh, Stoyan, my love. He almost made me cry. The page got all blurry on me and everything. Do you know how it is killing me to admit that? I absolutely hate to cry, but he got to me. Captain Wentworth’s letter is the last word in romance from an eloquent lover, but Stoyan takes the cake for the blue collar guys. He’s tall and handsome of course, but he’s a wise, old, gentle soul. He can handle himself in a fight, but he ultimately knows what’s important in life and inadvertently reminds Paula of that frequently. He’s loyal, quiet, and willing to do anything for her. As Duarte says to him, "It is blindingly clear to me that you would jump through fire for her." If you’ve ever read I Capture the Castle (which I recommend), Stoyan just might remind you of Stephen.
This is a “companion novel” to Wildwood Dancing. I don’t think it’s necessary to read them in any kind of order, but a small part of the plot from Wildwood will be spoiled if you read Cybele first.
I highly recommend this for fans of fairy tales, but you’ll have to have patience with the beginning. And be prepared to fall in love with Stoyan.
There are a quiz and photos of the area on Juliet Marillier's site.
And, because I can't hear or read Constantinople or Istanbul without thinking of this, here's a Tiny Toons video set to They Might Be Giants singing "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)."