Adrienne Young’s Fable is a thrilling high seas adventure with a feminist twist

Fable by Adrienne Young. Image Courtesy St. Martin's Press
Fable by Adrienne Young. Image Courtesy St. Martin's Press /

Fable, the first installment in author Adrienne Young’s latest duology, is the feminist high-seas pirate adventure you didn’t know you needed.

Author Adrienne Young’s latest novel Fable is the first installment in an exciting new high seas duology – but it’s quite a bit different from her first two books. Both Sky in the Deep and The Girl the Sea Gave Back are historical tales about butt-kicking Viking women, set in worlds of fjords and forests with dashes of magic shot through them.

Fable is almost the opposite. A fast-paced seafaring adventure involving pirates, nautical lore, and survival, this story is thrilling from its opening moments. In them, we meet a young girl named Fable, abandoned to fend for herself on an island full of dangerous grifters and cutthroats. Her mother was killed when the family’s ship was sunk during an unfamiliar storm. And the man who left her behind the very next day was her father, one of the high seas’ most notorious trading captains. But he promised that should she manage to find her way back to him someday, she’d earn a reward and a spot on his crew.

But the story of Fable isn’t just a tale of a girl trying to fight her way back to the only family she’s ever known – it’s about her proving herself and finding a new one along the way. And after she risks her life to earn passage on a ship known as the Marigold, almost everything Fable knows – about herself, about how much she’s willing to trust others, about who her father is – will change.

Besides her talented diving skills and the fact that she’s deeply at home on a ship (the girl has spent her life on one, basically), Fable is also a gem sage, with a unique ability to hear the vibrations of gemstones. This is a useful skill for a diver (she can use it to find hidden caches of treasure) but a dangerous prospect for a girl, given that it immediately not only marks her as different but as a target for kidnapping by unsavory types who might want to force her to use her gift for their benefit.

It’s no wonder that Fable is the sort of character who’s had to make herself hard in order to survive. Abandoned by the man who was supposed to love her and left on her own for so long, she’s learned not to trust anyone and fiercely clings to her independence. She hides her food and money to keep men who would rob from her at bay, she lies about her past so that it can’t be used against her, and she generally refuses to open up to anyone. As the novel continues – and Fable gets to know the ragtag crew of the Marigold – that changes, but like anything, it takes time.

For all that Fable is a coming of age novel, there’s something about its high seas setting that makes the story feel utterly fresh and unique. Perhaps it’s the general lack of magic beyond Fable’s gem sensing abilities, or maybe it’s just because pirate-adjacent fiction is not a subgenre I personally read regularly, but I feel a bit hard-pressed to think of many books that feel terribly similar.

Perhaps Tricia Levinseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King? Or Natalie Parker’s Seafire series? Both are also feminist high seas tales that focus on strong women, but both also have a more significant supernatural and/or dystopian feel to them. Fable feels more realistically grounded to me, and perhaps that’s why I found it so much fun to read.

The novel’s secondary characters are all well-drawn and memorable, from stealth love interest West – who carries his own secrets – and the motley crew of the Marigold, to Fable’s heartless father Saint, and the various other traders and pirates out for their own ends. The one sea captain who seems to have it out for the Marigold is particularly intriguing, as he’s far more willing than most to do bad things in service of his own ends. (That he will play into the novel’s inevitable cliffhanger is inevitable, but what will happen in the next book is anyone’s guess.)

As an author, Young’s strength is in her ability to craft both strong female protagonists and worlds that are filled with realistic details. Both of which she does in Fable to great effect. As heroines go, Fable is fantastic, and the world of dredgers, traders, pirates, and blackhearts she inhabits is rich and well-crafted, from the shady back alley pawn shops to the unspoken code between the men who make a living on the sea.

The novel’s love story – such as It is –  is probably its weakest link, but it’s nothing that will keep you from enjoying the rest of the adventure, and happily going along for the ride, wherever it might take us next.

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Fable is available now.