When Ashley Capes contacted me concerning this book I was eager to accept the task, since I greatly enjoyed his City of Masks. I was warned beforehand that The Fairy Wren belonged to a different genre, so I was eager to see how a change of style and background would come across in his writing: it was different, indeed, to the point that I’m quite puzzled about how to classify this story (mainstream with a dash of fantasy is the closer I can come to it) – but despite this little obstacle, I liked the book quite a bit.
Paul Fischer is the owner of a struggling bookstore in the Australian city of Stony Bay: clients are few and far between and like other businesses along the street, Stony Bay Books is threatened by an incoming rent raise – a plot by the unpleasant and greedy lease-holder to evict the current shopkeepers in favor of more promising clients. This is not the only weight on Paul’s shoulders: his wife Rachel left him a few months before for another man, and his repeated attempts to contact her and mend the rift have been met with a restraining order. Family and friends advise him to let go and concentrate on the shop and its survival, but Paul seems at first too dispirited to do anything about it, until something changes: he receives strange phone calls he’s certain are from Rachel, who must be trying to contact him; a mysterious runaway child literally lands on his doorstep and the titular fairy wren appears in his garden, seemingly intent on conveying an urgent message to him.
This series of unrelated events effects an extraordinary change on Paul’s listless attitude: he confronts the lease-holder head on, to the point of physically assaulting him, and he starts to take a more pro-active, or rather daring stance in his life. This does not mean that he emerges as a new, better man, though: he’s still prone to blunders and there are instances where he defies both the law and common good sense in such a way that it’s legitimate to wonder if he’s not lost his mind or entered into a different dimension, one where little birds communicate with him, leading him on a quest that will have unforeseen results and will uncover strange happenings.
Paul Fischer’s journey is a peculiar yet compelling one: clues add up in an intriguing way, and despite the down-to-earth quality of the events (let’s not forget I’m a speculative fiction addict!!) I felt the need to know how the story worked out and how the characters would come through. Ashely Capes shows he’s a convincing storyteller, no matter the genre he works with or the writing style he adopts: even in this “mundane” tale, he managed to keep my attention focused, which resulted in a quick and pleasant read.
One of the details I most appreciated was the fact that there is no definite “happily ever after”, that some outcomes are left in a state of flux with no certainty about what the future will bring – and yet there is a clear change in the atmosphere, and in Paul’s attitude toward life: a glimmer of hope has entered the equation, and altered the rules, showing how something small, indeed as small as a wren, can make a big difference.
If you’re looking for a quick, uplifting tale to carry you through the holidays, this is indeed the book for you.
My Rating: 7,5/10