Fable by Adrienne Young, Wednesday Books, 2020 –
Imagine this – a heroine, having just found true love and her place in a hostile world, finds herself betrayed, beaten, abducted, tied to the mast of a villain’s ship as his vessel heads out to sea. It’s the sort of thing you expect in the beginning/middle of a book – the sticky wicket that works its way to resolution by the end. Well, Ms. Young, a Texas born and raised writer currently residing in California, says phooey on that and ends her book as outlined above.
The ending was so unexpected – so far from the beaten track that I re-read the last two pages and checked in case I missed a final chapter slipped somewhere between the rear end paper and pastedown. No, the ending was as stated so I started to look for some indication that this was the first book in a series, purposely finishing with a ‘cliff hanger’ like the old-fashioned silent film series, ‘The Perils of Pauline’. Alas, there was no mention of a second book – a sort of ‘the further adventures of young Fable’ kind of thing. No hope there either, apparently.
Right from the start Ms. Young creates a fantasy world that is a fairly dismal place. It’s brimming with powerful guilds, merchants in the towns and sea roving traders; most of who act more like pirates/mobsters than marine merchants. The rule in this world is self-sufficiency – never reveal feelings, information or connections to anyone, as they’ll use them against you or those you care for. In fact, it’s better never to care for anyone.
Fable is the name of the book’s heroine and her father, ‘Saint’ (an ironic choice perhaps) has taught her every harsh rule by example. In her early life she stayed with her parents on her father’s ship, the ‘Lark’. But one day the ‘Lark’ is caught by a violent storm at sea and strikes a reef. The ship sinks, taking many of the crew, including Fable’s mother, down with her. Fable and her father escape on a jolly boat with a few members of the crew. They land on Jerval, a ‘devil’s island’ kind of place, populated by thieves and cutthroats who’ve been banished to the island. Her father sails away, abandoning Fable on the island, supposedly so she can develop her survival skills and really learn how to live in the harsh world. As he leaves he tells Fable that if she can figure out a way to get off the island and find him, he’ll give her an inheritance. What more does a young girl need?
With skill, pluck and luck she eventually escapes from Jerval in a trading ship captained by a trader named West. After surmounting many obstacles, she finds friends, a job, treasure and true love with West. Ms. Young does a wonderful job of creating a compelling character in Fable and fills the pages with drama and action. She really knows how to create one crisis after another while her protagonist learns, grows and triumphs over adversity – right until the end. In an astonishing ‘pull the rug from under the reader’ reversal, the main character finishes by getting whacked from on high with the reader left in doubt as to her fate.
And this is a book for ‘young adults’? It sounds like the novel’s message is: ‘Why bother with anything when you’re going to get screwed in the end’. Maybe this is the Texan breeding coming to the fore – you know, the place where they vote for guns so young adults can blast school children into bits while heavily armed police sanitize their hands outside the classroom and listen to the carnage.
TL:DR – If you’re tired of uplifting stories, or have had enough of novels that end well, this book will be right up your alley.