Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist
Doubleday, 1st printing (galley), 1988
Genre: fantasy, horror
Synopsis & Review: An old house surrounded by untouched woodlands is the scene as successful screenwriter Phil Hastings uproots his family, relocating from California to a century-old farm outside a small town in rural New York. Despite some initial trepidations, the family settles in, eight year-old twins Sean and Patrick playing sandlot baseball, while teenage Gabbie romances neighboring grad student Jack. The idyll does not last long, however; The Bad Thing, which lurks under a bridge near the house, menaces the twins and a mysterious young man sexually assaults Gabbie. In the woods, people are lost and see creatures of unearthly beauty and terror, things only found in old tales and folklore. When the Hastings find a horde of gold on their property, all hell breaks loose as they unwittingly violate an ancient Compact between mankind and The Good People. There are a few problems with Faerie Tale. Most conspicuous is how uneven it is; the sections dealing directly with the Good People are noticeably stronger than those dealing with the day-to-day events of the Hastings family. The Good People scenes are distinguished by intensely vivid language and a highly charged atmosphere, and often have a eerie and disticntly cinematic feel, reminiscent of Disney’s The Watcher in the Woods. The difference is glaring when a scene of Jack and Gabbie stalked by something while lost in the woods is juxtaposed with one of them thinking about their feelings for one another; for the most part, the characters are too simple to hold interest for long, and so the parts of the novel dependent on them for interest tend to drag. Aggie in particular is shallowly drawn. Feist does create the boys Sean and Patrick well, though, doing a fine job depicting a childlike perspective of the situation. He also does well creating a family dynamic, for the story isn’t just about a threat to humanity, it also concerns a threat to a family, and how the family survives outside dangers. I don’t think I noticed until now, but other than the Hastings family, there are very few characters. There are walk-ons by a cable installer, as well as assorted doctors, but aside from the family’s circle of intimates—Mark, Gary, Aggie, and Jack—the only outsider of any significance is Barney Doyle, the drunken Irishman. Fortunately, he is one of the better-drawn characters with some depth, even if Feist has to tell us directly that he’s more complex than he seems.
The pace occasionally falters due to the episodic nature of the story, but Feist builds tension well, slowly escalating the levels of violence and the supernatural to create an atmosphere of dread and anticipation—mostly the latter. The high point of the novel is Sean’s quest under Erl King Hill; in the lands of the Good People, both he and they shine, and there is for once a concrete goal. At the end, Feist links tales of fairies and their ilk with legendary narratives with a historical basis, an intriguing concept that he ultimately bungles. Too much overt explanation gives those sections a didactic flavor that lessens enjoyment of the supernatural creatures he’s introduced, especially during Sean’s quest at the end. An easy and entertaining, but not great, read.
Cover: Creates a sense of menace, with a glimpse of The Bad Thing stalking a country farmhouse. Not enough trees in the background, though. Also a nice wraparound cover. However, the bloody font of the title seems like overkill.
Below, the milk sat unattended, until a glowing pair of eyes spied it from under the house. Moving silently, a form came out into the moonlight and regarded the saucer. Ernie’s nose sniffed delicately and, finding the unexpected treat fresh, he began to lap.
A slight sound cause the tom to turn. Behind him, approaching cautiously, was something odd and confusing. A little man, no higher than the cat, was approaching, waving a tiny walking stick at Ernie. In words high and faint he cried out, “Shoo! Be off!”
The cat backed away, at first tempted to paw at the man, but something registered in the old tom’s head, and he backed off. There were others coming behind, and some innate sense told the cat they were not to be played with. These were not food, or enemies, just strange. Ernie retreated a short way off and sat down to watch the creatures. There were a half dozen of them, all little people, some with tiny wings on their backs, some dressed in odd fashion, but looking wrong and smelling alien to the cat. They circled the milk, then one dipped a finger in and pulled it out, tasting it. He nodded and they all bent over the dish and began to drink.
17 May – 19 May