Never, under any circumstances, reveal who or what matters to you.
Fable tells the story of the young daughter of a crime boss trader of the seas. The very day her mother dies from a storm-caused shipwreck, her father leaves her alone on an island to fend for herself. He tells her she’s too good for his world but, if she can get off the island, he’ll give her what she deserves. Suddenly she is forced to struggle for survival among a dangerous set of men with little to lose. Using dredger skills passed down from her mother, Fable scours ocean reefs for precious gems to sell for passage off the island. She spends four years fighting desperately to stay safe, eventually bartering for passage to finally join the father who left her.
We both know that surviving means sometimes doing things that haunt you.
I did a lot of screaming when I finished this book. For a novel I initially thought started off somewhat slow, Fable very cleverly wove its way into my heart. Each intricate moment was intentional, designed to act like a frog in tepid water. The slow-burn story that first had me quite bored instead resulted in a tale I fell madly in love with. And I did so without even realizing.
Each separate plot and relationship had that same slow-burn feeling to them. Whether you’re looking at the relationship between Fable and her father or the friendships she builds along her journey, you regularly see a delicate care taken with each step of its development. Young also has this utterly fantastic way of having all the twists exist just out of the reader’s reach. I’m pretty exceptional at picking out plot points and predicting what will happen within a story, so the fact that I was only able to do so with this book right before the twist was revealed left me immensely impressed.
This was some of the most exquisite storytelling I’ve had the pleasure of reading in my entire life. The novel’s central focus and each of the subsequent supporting plots are woven together ingeniously with the characters. With each page turn, something new and small is revealed, slowly building a connection you can’t quite escape from.
There are subtleties of the writing that pull you in, like an unsuspecting tide. Once you’re caught there’s no dragging yourself back from the current; why would you even want to?
Like a weary bird flying out over the most desolate sea, I finally had a place to land.
At its core, Fable is a story about the conflicts that power and money create in a world. It’s a story about friendship and found families. And it’s also a story of survival. In many ways, Fable has an interesting way of mirroring life. As someone who’s not often fond of novels like this, I was surprised at how much I loved its portrayal here.
There is an intricate conflict between those with power and money and those without. This conflict permeates an abundance of small moments while also driving the entire crux of Fable’s tale. And there’s an impact to gaining that power: a price, of sorts, to pay. This, too, is seeped into nearly every page. Power is the ocean they sail through; characters either hold the key to harnessing it or are trapped amidst its waves.
The relationships are at the forefront of the novel, each impacting the central conflict in multiple small, but impact-filled ways. Conflict comes within the scope of human development. You see it in the hardships one must face to survive and the ways in which they are managed both with and without outside support. And again, it’s a slow-burn. Character development comes in tiny bursts, all culminating around the central theme yet again.
A deeper conflict, it seems, is also being held for book two.
“What I want is not to die alone,” she said, her voice suddenly small. “I didn’t really choose this life. It’s just the only one I have…”
The characters, simply put, are amazing. I can’t think of a single character I didn’t love for one reason or another. Even characters like Fable’s mother, dead for years now, were immensely impactful to the novel. And I adored them all. Secretive West, hardened Willa, and ruthless yet soft Saint were beyond words brilliant. The despicable Zola, mysterious Isolde, whimsical Paj, loving Auster, and clever Hamish demanded your attention.
They all slowly found a deep place in my heart to reside.
Best of all, any minor character who we only got to see for a short period of time genuinely felt like a real person rather than a prop. I feel like this is an incredibly hard thing to achieve in writing. I certainly haven’t seen it often. And it’s amazing how much of an emotional impact so many of these minor characters had. Characters who didn’t even speak, who were never actually present in the moments of the story left me reeling.
I’d crossed the Narrows for a man who’s probably never even loved me. For a dream that would never come true.
It’s unfortunate that I feel this commentary is necessary despite how much I loved this book. But Fable is not perfect. The truth is there are a couple of things that could have been done better. First, and honestly most important, is Saint and the abandonment of his daughter.
I spent the better part of this novel expecting the motivations that led Saint to leave his only daughter on an island filled with dangerous men had a little more backing to them. But, as far as this book is concerned, her mother’s death via drowning in a storm turned out to be just that: death by drowning in a storm.
There wasn’t some overarching plot behind her death that really solidified Saint’s take on leaving behind those he cared about. It didn’t give reason to the need to cement his position and prevent anyone from using love against him. He’s not protecting Fable from a threat that’s been made by denouncing her. No one has murdered her mother nor threatened those he loves. He just decides that one loss–at the hands of a storm, no less–is enough emotional turmoil for one life and therefore nips all possible future emotional upset in the bud.
Saint’s denouncement of Fable would have unquestionably had much more of an impact if there was a genuine threat. It would have worked incredibly well had Saint truly needed to distance himself to prevent someone from using her against him. But, to my dismay, there was no genuine moment in which this would have been realized for him. Fable’s mother wasn’t murdered. She died in a storm.
So, unless Saint murdered her mother so he could get rid of them both and cut ties with the only potential weaknesses he had–which I very much doubt–this just fell really flat for me. In this one instance, Fable’s mother feels like a useless prop.
I pushed us into storms I shouldn’t have because I didn’t want to not be there when you woke up. I didn’t want you to wait for me. Ever. Or to think I wasn’t coming back.
Honestly, I don’t have many problems with Fable as a character. What did throw me for a loop, though, was that I never truly felt as though I had a genuine sense of her age. Supposedly, she is 18 and was abandoned on the island by her father when she was 14. That said, at times she comes across as much younger than that. It almost feels as though she was abandoned at the age of 11 or 12 and is now 15 or 16. It’s not a major issue, but it did derail me several times while reading since I could never determine what really matched.
Alternately, we did not get enough time with West. This is the single most pressing issue with his character.
I never truly felt I got to know him or understand his motivations. He’s so shrouded in mystery, largely because he keeps so many secrets, that I couldn’t help feeling a massive disconnect. We get little snippets throughout the book and only ones that Fable, herself, becomes privy to. This is a great writing device, really. And when done well, it can be incredibly impressive.
The problem arises when you realize there were so many of West’s secrets that Fable just…didn’t learn. Worse yet, the brief trickles you get of his truths are enough to make you love him but not enough to help you understand his motivations regarding Fable. We spend precious little time with him, and what we do get is thoroughly hidden. This was horribly depressing to me because I loved West.
What he was saying-the things he told me-was his way of showing me he trusted me. It was also his way of giving me the match. If I wanted to, I could burn him down. But if we were going to do this, I would have to be his safe harbor and he would have to be mine.
West’s love of Fable feels deeply underdeveloped. I can’t really figure out when he fell in love with her or why. It’s not that I don’t see her as someone he should or could care about, but rather that Young never really spent any time building up the fact that he did, in fact, love her. Instead, we get some sort of cop-out answer that puts all of his moments of falling in love in a portion of the story that we, as readers, never got to see.
The story hurts for this.
I’m not saying the romance has to be at the forefront of the story. But there should be a little something more than a brief comment to events that occurred before the story even began. While this can sometimes work, in this instance it feels like lazy writing. It feels like Young either didn’t know how to show him fall in love with her or didn’t want to put in the effort.
As much as I loved that moment, part of me felt it came out of thin air.
Isolde was the wind and sea and sky of Saint’s world. She was the pattern of stars that he navigated by, the sum of all directions on his compass. And he was lost without her.
Despite all this, though, I do genuinely consider Fable to be an exceptional novel. I would have changed a few things, for sure. But the writing is still utterly brilliant. The slow-burn of the story and our connection with it shouldn’t be understated. Such an ability is impressive in its own right and mind-shattering for readers. This is not a book easily forgotten.
Young has an exceptional ability to pull readers into her story, to build viscerally real connections between us and her characters. By all accounts, it seems somewhat surprising to me that I feel as strongly as I do about all of them.
And yet, somehow, it’s not surprising at all.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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