Cybele’s Secret Book Review

A moment later a huge, dark form loomed behind us. A scream died in my throat before I could release it.

-pg 3

Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier

Cybele’s Secret is the continued story of characters from Wildwood Dancing. This time, though, it’s the adventure of the second youngest sister, Paula, taking place about five years after the sisters’ magical portal to the Otherworld has closed.

Paula is like Jenna in many ways; they are both more studious than girly and neither would ever be content as just a housewife. So when Paula sets out with her father on a merchant voyage to Istanbul, I was expecting the same old same old thing that I had become used to with the last book.

However, I came to be pleasantly surprised. Paula is just as unique a character as any of her sisters. She is quite different from Jenna in many ways. Paula, you see, is a scholar and accompanies her father to Istanbul to work as his assistant as they seek to buy a very rare and valuable item. Along the way, their ship is raided we are introduced to a man named Duarte, though it is a while before we see him again. When they arrive in Istanbul, they find that her father’s trading partner has been murdered and because of this, her father decides it’s not safe for Paula or himself, to be without a bodyguard. They end up hiring a strapping young man named Stoyan.

These two men, Duarte and Stoyan, are of course the ones who grow fond of Paula and create the romantic trouble. The rare item Paula and her father seek is axel of the story, around which the whole plot revolves.

So far, this structure may seem pretty basic, your average Indiana Jones item and love triangle. And in a way, it is. But once you throw in the magical Otherworld in which the five sisters used to dance, and things get a bit more complex.

I won’t waste time trying to explain the inner workings of the plot and if I tried, I’d probably give away the best parts. What I’ve told you is about as much as the cover jacket says, so you’ve got to have a little faith in Marillier’s ability to put together a story.

I did and I am happy to say that I was pleasantly rewarded. Like I was saying earlier, reading Paula’s story isn’t like reading Jenna’s all over again. First, we are in a very different part of the world this time, Istanbul. Marillier’s well researched set is utterly alluring. Her wonderful descriptions of smells, spices, soft silk and mixture of cultures had me feeling the need to go back and time and visit Istanbul myself after reading the story.

Second, while Jenna was a smart character, she often used intuition to figure things out, while Paula who is the scholar, used her brain. A lot.  Logic is her guiding light. As she is thrown puzzle after puzzle, it is delightful to watch her try and find things out, learning that sometimes, pure logic isn’t the only thing that can solve a situation.

There were only two problems I had with the story. One was that, since the plot had similar cadences to Wildwood Dancing, I could tell what kinds of things were going to happen, which made the motives behind much of the magical events weaker than in the first book. Second, there’s a bit of a slow part in the middle that I was too keen on. I sort of skimmed it the first time, then went back and re-read it since latter events were then mighty confusing. Read the boring bits because, yes, they are important.

The essence of the story is still similar to Wildwood Dancing, where you have a blurred line between a magical world and this one, but I think Marillier has managed to create a totally entrancing story with its own quirks and adventure. If you enjoyed Wildwood Dancing, I think you’ll enjoy this one too. I found it a great use of my time and would love to go back and visit the sisters one more time, if Marillier would have it. There were somethings in the book that she never wraped up, so there is still room to explore. (If she did, I think the story would be about Stella, the youngest sister, going into the Otherworld.)

One thing I need to state, is that while this takes place in a Muslim world where culture is very different, Marillier has done an excellent job of smoothing over any misconceptions our modern world may have given us of the Middle East. At one point, where religious differences create tension in the story, Marillier makes it clear that Islam isn’t the only religion that believes in god, and thus, not the only religion that would be upset by what’s going on in the story. She included a statement in the back that apologized to anyone who felt that she misrepresented Islamic culture. Personally, as a half-Muslim myself, I feel that she did an excellent job of balancing plot and political correctness.

So, my final thoughts? Cybele’s secret is a love story, an adventure, and a perfectly enjoyable read.


Ri’s Rating



0. Couldn’t get past chapter one for fear of wanting to kill myself. Book induced suicide…

1: Yuck. Ew. Below Average. Probably didn’t even read the middle and skipped to the end.

2. Ok. Would’ve been better if I’d written the ending and everything else.

3. Not bad at all. Very enjoyable. Quite nice. Recommendable.

4. My kind of book. Near ideal, but something was a little off (annoying names, bad ending, that sort of thing).

5. WOW. Makes me wonder why people watch T.V when this is out there. Really liked it. Don’t expect to see this often.

6 and above. What I want my book to be.

Leave a comment


  1. No rating???????

  2. Ellie

     /  August 5, 2011

    I think Ri did not do this book justice. This is an amazing book and I think it deserved a lot more than a three. It should have a four at least and is the kind of book that I wish I could write (but I need a lot of work before I could write something as good as this.) However I do not think it was quite as good as Wildwood Dancing. I feel it was lacking something but am not quite sure what.

    • Ri

       /  August 7, 2011

      Well, the thing is, you basically said it yourself: I gave Wildwood Dancing a 4 because it was quite good, but this one was lacking something. I liked, certainly, but I didn’t like it as much as the first. That being so, how can I grade them the same?

      You may notice, however, that I raved about it above; however, the “rating” at the bottom is largely independent of the review itself. In the review, I dicuss everything I liked and didn’t like. In my rating, I give it a scored based on how I feel, and how good the novel was in comparison with all other books I’ve read. Also, on the “reviewed books” page, I rank books by how many times I would/will read it and if it’s worth recommending. Through the combination of these three things, I think I can give people a feel on exactly why I liked a book and whether or not it’s worth their time. Complex? Yes. But it’s how I roll :)

      A three is actually a normal score. A lot of books I really really loved get a three because I feel like saving 4s and up for the books I would bring to the end of the world with me. If I give everything too high a score, then it would be harder to tell when I really like something, right?

      Hmm, I sort of babbled here, eh? Sorry. I hope this helps you understand it a bit more. Thank you for commenting and I do hope you continue to do so (I hope this didn’t scare you away!). It’s always great to hear back from readers, and I totally don’t mind if you disagree.
      Rock on! –RI


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