Look at that gorgeous cover! It’s literally the best part of this nonsense book that had me wanting to dig up copies of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows And Amazons series so I could read a tale of young pirates that I would actually enjoy. Okay, Adrienne Young’s prose is pretty decent — there are some lovely descriptive pieces, particularly underwater — but the plot and characterization are so dreadful. It’s essentially a book of immature people making irrational choices, in a poorly fleshed out fantasy world that only hangs together due to plot contrivance.
The story goes like this: Fable is dumped as a 14 year-old on the crappy island of Jeval after a storm sinks her parents’ ship and claims her mother’s life. The dumping is done by her father, Saint, who we’re supposed to believe is so fearful for her safety that he leaves a pretty young teenager to fend for herself on an island of pirates and thieves. He tells her that when she can figure out how to get off Jeval and find him, he’ll give her her inheritance, so for four years, she starves and schemes, finally saving enough money to buy dredger’s tools that allow her to free dive into the reefs and dig up precious gems to trade with West, the helmsman of the Marigold. As she tries to collect enough copper to buy passage back to Ceros, where her father lives, she draws the unwanted attention of Koy, a supposedly ruthless skiff owner, who causes her to flee earlier than expected and with barely enough money to her name.
And then it’s all about traipsing around The Narrows, as the bay where all this action takes place is called, a bay that takes about two days’ sail to traverse and where Fable and the crew of the Marigold lie, cheat and trade their way to getting what they want. Everyone on the Marigold is mean to her at first because that’s just the world this is, a place where everyone is hostile until she can win them over by being a martyr and/or an idiot. But since this world is also logic-free, hey, why the fuck not? Why not have a passionate underwater first kiss while free diving when time is of the essence and you need all the breath you can get? The romance, btw, is another of those “let’s fall in love with the first attractive person who is interested in me” variety. Barf.
Bad enough that the romance is ridiculous: I was actually offended by how badly the commerce of this world was depicted. I’m not expecting Baru Cormorant levels of complexity, but come on, only one kind of coin, seriously? It’s as if everyone trades in dimes! The system here is so rudimentary, and the value scale completely nonsensical. And speaking of values, the rules for survival set out are so… juvenile. It’s basically Trust No One broken down into five component parts meant to sound deep and romantic, but are really, truly neither.
But here’s the worst thing: no one’s actually a pirate! They’re all just traders — some more villainous than others, granted — with guilds and charters! Being immature people making irrational choices, there’s a lot of basic chicanery, but no one’s ship gets boarded while underway. Which is probably for the best with this author, as I found some of her nautical writing to be dubious at best. No, you don’t have to automatically abandon ship if the mainmast breaks, and while yes, sails are expensive, you don’t just take the L when someone rips all the ones you have hanging, to which, why are your sails even unfurled while you’re in port?! God Almighty, this book made me so angry.
I only picked up this book because I already have an advance copy of the sequel, out in March, and now I’m dreading having to read that, and not in a cool Pirate Roberts way either. Also, Reese Witherspoon recommended it, which makes me think her tastes rather suspect. But hey, it was easy to read, if completely nonsensical, and some people dig that, I guess.
Fable by Adrienne Young was published September 1st, 2020 by Wednesday Books, and is available from all good booksellers, including
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