I received this book for review from the author. I don’t accept many direct review requests, but I was intrigued by this blend of magical realism with contemporary drama romance, and The Fairy Wren has received really strong reviews from other reviewers.
The book’s protagonist is Paul Fischer, a struggling book shop owner, recently separated from his wife. When we meet Paul, nothing in his life is going right; he’s bitter, lonely and his short fuse keeps getting him into even more trouble.
Paul is on the brink of losing his business and facing a pending assault charge when he first spots a mysterious fairy wren. The “tiny blue bird with brilliant blue feathers” seems to be watching him; following him, and when it delivers his lost wedding ring back to him, Paul begins to wonder if there’s more to the bird than meets the eye. Soon after, his ex-wife Rachel goes missing, and Paul decides to follow the fairy wren on a weird and wonderful mission for answers.
The thing that I worry about most when reading self or indie-published novels is the writing quality. I can’t help thinking that, without the rigorous editing process you’d expect at a major publishing house, more errors and generally poor writing could slip through the net. But, my experience with this book has proved that view completely unfounded as the writing was excellent, and it has to be one of the cleanest and most well-formatted eARCs I’ve ever received. Ashley Capes is clearly a talented writer and balances the tones of wit, warmth and drama beautifully.
Although I didn’t necessarily agree with all Paul’s decisions, I couldn’t help but root for him – he’s an extremely likeable and well-drawn character, coming across as a genuine guy who has just encountered a terrible run of bad luck. Capes provides the reader with an humorous peek into Paul’s uncensored thoughts – from his rants about caravans; “they were menaces, like giant steel snails painted white for visibility” to the tender self-deprecation suffering a hangover when your entire life seems to be going wrong. “Paul placed his empty coffee cup down, using gentle movements only, lest the sound of contact with the coaster split his skull open and empty the wriggling mess of underachieving thoughts onto the carpet.” I also loved the setting of a quiet coastal town in Australia; there’s a real sense of authenticity in the community spirit, and the way the local business owners come together to face the corporate bosses.
While I enjoyed the writing, the setting and the characters, some aspects of the plot were a little bit hit and miss for me. Balancing and blending themes of drama, romance and small-town relationships with fantasy and magic can be difficult to get right, and this novel did sometimes feel like it veered off in different directions at the drop of the hat. There’s an awful lot going on in Paul’s life to keep track of, and a surprising dark turn in the second half of the novel completely threw me. I struggled to understand the motive behind some of Paul’s decisions and I found that a few of the later elements didn’t really feel in keeping with the first part of the novel, and required a lot of suspension of disbelief.
But, if you’re able to suspend that disbelief and keep up with the multiple strands in this story, you will find a truly original and heartwarming premise at the heart of this book. The Fairy Wren offers a compelling drama, magical fantasy and a story of personal growth all in one and, more importantly, it really is an original read, unlike anything I’ve read before.