Robyn Reviews: Fable

‘Fable’ is an absolutely typical young adult fantasy book. For fans of the genre it makes an enjoyable enough read, but it lacks anything special to make it stand out.

Four years ago, Fable’s father – one of the most feared tradesmen in the Narrows – abandoned her on a remote island to prove her worth. Survive, and she’ll be allowed to come into her legacy. Anything else and she won’t be his daughter. Finally, Fable has scraped together enough coin to pay for passage off the island – but the seas are treacherous, and the man Fable enlists for help, West, is more than he seems. Fable’s salvation might turn out to be her downfall.

Fable couldn’t be a more typical YA protagonist. Lost her mother in a tragic accident? Check. Abandoned by her father to live as an orphan? Check. Possessing rare and unusual skills that she must keep secret from everyone else? Check. Beautiful despite years spent barely able to survive and feed herself? Check. Fable is determined and feisty, if very naive, and a likeable enough protagonist – but she doesn’t stand out. It can also be very irritating how she clings to her fathers rules and beliefs despite him being a horrible person. This is probably realistic, but it’s not pleasant to read.

The crew of the Marigold, the ship Fable escapes on, are an interesting bunch – although because they and Fable don’t trust each other one jolt, they remain a mystery for much of the book. Willa especially is a brilliant character, and West clearly has the obligatory tragic backstory for the main male character in a YA fantasy. It isn’t really a spoiler to call him the love interest because it’s so obviously choreographed from the beginning, and the plot is standard enough to throw up few surprises.

The best part about this book is the setting. The worldbuilding is exceptionally bare bones and basic, but most of this takes place on boats and the sea, and the way this is depicted is excellent. All the terminology is very well explained, without too much being dumped on the reader at once, and the highs and lows of life at sea are beautifully portrayed. There’s also a real sense of family amongst the crew – and clear reasons why this has to be the case. It’s a shame that everything else about the book is so bland, because the premise of rival merchant ship crews is packed with potential.

Overall, ‘Fable’ is a decent read, but lacks anything to make it stand out from other books in its genre. YA fantasy fans will likely enjoy it, but those who’ve read many YA fantasies before may find the story too familiar in territory.

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 26th January 2021

Book Review: The Alchemist

The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream, by Paul Coelho (translator not credited), tells the story of a young shepherd who consults a gypsy and then meets an enigmatic king. The boy is encouraged to follow his dream which involves abandoning his nomadic existence in Andalusia and seeking treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. Along the way he is robbed and beaten. He must find work if he is to continue his journey. He opens himself to the possibility of omens and must decide when to share what he learns from these.

The boy recognises that he must choose between regarding himself as a victim or an adventurer. Although looking to his future, to fulfilling his quest, the importance of living in the present is often reiterated. The boy learns from every experience, including that a universal language exists to enable deeper understanding of self, other people and place.

The fable-like narrative is spiritual but not favouring any particular religion. Rather it encourages the reader to take time to observe surroundings and engage with nature.

I was somewhat put off the story by the buried treasure aspect – despite the obvious metaphor – and the repeated references to God. I enjoyed the appreciation of nature and the boy’s acceptance of setbacks – how he reasoned in order to find ways to continue. The story of his journey, personal and practical, is a device to pass on the author’s perceived wisdom. I wonder if he regards himself as the titular alchemist.

This wasn’t the tale I expected when I requested the book based on its many rave reviews. Although offering occasional nuggets of wisdom, I found progress slow in places. Evocative and smoothly written as it is, I am reluctant to recommend.

The Alchemist is published by Harper Collins.