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Friday, August 14, 2009

Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier is a self-proclaimed follower of the druid religion. In spite of that, as I have indicated in previous posts, here and here, she has written sympathetically, and with seeming understanding, about Christianity and Christians.

Cybele's Secret (Knopf, Borzoi Books, 2008) is the latest book in which Marillier has touched on religion. In this book, set in Europe centuries ago, the main character is a practicing Christian, although seemingly only in the way many so-called Christians are, namely that they call upon God to help them when they are in deep trouble, but otherwise don't have much to do with Him. There is some mention of Islam, and of a pagan religion, perhaps similar to that of the Druids.

Since the Wikipedia does not yet have an article on this book, I will depart from my usual practice, and set forth a summary.

The book is a sequel to Wildwood Dancing, and, like that book, was written for young people. Paula, the main character in Cybele's Secret, was a minor character in Wildwood Dancing, a younger sister, of the main characters. The entire book is told from Paula's point of view.

Paula and her father have heard that an ancient idol, Cybele's Secret, which was involved in a female-centered religion a long time before the time of the book, may be available for purchase. The father is a trader, and has a buyer. He takes Paula with him to Istanbul, to attempt to purchase the object. Paula, although still a teenager, is scholarly. Istanbul is ruled by Muslims, although non-Muslims are welcome in the city, and there are many of them. However, women are not treated as equal to men.

Before entering the city, the ship that Paula and her father are traveling on meets the ship of a man named Duarte, a reputed pirate. When they arrive, one necessary procedure is to obtain the services of a guard for Paula. She selects a tall, muscular, good-looking man named Stoyan.

Paula helps her father with some of his trading, and even does a little herself, when her father is otherwise occupied. But she finds that she hungers for books, scrolls, and other items to read. Irene, the wife of a high official, has an excellent library, and Paula is allowed to use her library. Irene claims to revere Cybele's secret, and the religion it was part of. During Paula's use of the library, she finds two manuscripts that seem to be about Cybele's Secret, and has some mysterious visits from a woman in a black robe. Paula and Stoyan study the manuscripts, trying to figure out exactly what they mean. Paula comes to believe that this person is her sister Tati, who left the family to go into the realm of faerie with her lover, in the first book. Irene seems to be a good friend, although quite a bit older.

The potential buyers of Cybele's secret, including Paula and her father, and Duarte, with Irene serving as chaperone for Paula, are invited to see the object. It turns out that the object is a fragment -- a large fragment, but not the entire object, just the head and the upper body. Paula's father and Duarte seem to be the most likely buyers. Paula's father is waylaid, and beaten, on the way to a possible purchase, and Duarte buys the object. Paula and Stoyan manage to get on Duarte's ship. At first Duarte is antagonistic to Paula and Stoyan, and they reciprocate. However, another ship puts out from the harbor, chasing Duarte's ship, and Paula gradually comes to see that Duarte is no pirate, but an honorable man, and one who promised to return the statue of Cybele to its place of origin. He seems to be in love with Paula.

The three, using Paula and Stoyan's knowledge of the manuscripts, enter a cave. They are pursued by people from the other vessel, one of whom turns out to be Irene, supposedly Paula's friend, but obviously not really one. The cave is part of fairyland. Paula succeeds in doing several tasks, which means that she, Duarte and Stoyan are given the other part of Cybele's secret. During the time underground, it is revealed that Irene only wants the entire object so that she can set herself up as head of a religion for women in Istanbul. She does not believe in the religion of the Cybele cult.

Paula, Stoyan, and Duarte are allowed to leave the cave. Irene dies there. The three of them come out near an isolated village, which believes that Cybele's Secret will come to them, just as they bring it out. They leave the object there, for the villagers to revere. Their worship seems to be earth-worship, with no human sacrifices.

Paula would evidently have considered herself a Christian. She prays to the Christian God a few times, asking for His help, but does otherwise show any evidence of a deep faith.

The book ends with Paula planning to marry Stoyan, her former guard.

It was an exciting book. Marillier is a good writer. The issues treated, dangers faced, the moral choices, the practice of religion, pagan, Muslim, and Christian, are not as intense as in her books for adults, which, I suppose, is appropriate to the intended audience.

Marillier has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and is receiving treatment. I wish the best for her. The best would be that she not only be sympathetic to Christianity, but that she trust in the Christ of Christianity.

Thanks for reading.

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