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Review: The Wild Reel by Paul Brandon

 Review: The Wild Reel by Paul Brandon

I picked up The Wild Reel by Australian author Paul Brandon largely based on its cover quote from Charles de Lint,'who, like Haruki Murakami, is one of the authors I love to read when I want something simple and light with characters that are familiar to me. (Admittedly, de Lint does this through featuring the same series of characters in his novels and short stories, while Murakami simply features characters who are pretty much interchangeable between novels). However, it was The Wild Reels cover that initially caught my eye, being extremely de Lint-esque in design:

 Review: The Wild Reel by Paul Brandon
 Review: The Wild Reel by Paul Brandon

Now, theres a reason that so many chicklit novels have pink shoes on their covers, or that literary novels often state very explicitly that they are a novel on the front cover. Clearly, Tor was trying to note that rather than the slew of vamps-n-weres urban fantasy out there, Brandons book was going to be something along the lines of the Irish music-and-happy-fey that de Lints work so effusively explores. Which is completely fair enough.

Except this book is not so much a novel in the vein of Charles de Lint, but a piece of fan fiction. From the very first pages, I couldnt help shake the feeling that I was reading a piece of pseudonymous de Lint. From the prose to the characters to the overall plot, this book does not only channel de Lint, but its possessed by him. All of the characters are musicians, artists, or homeless people, all of them with hearts of gold. The fey component is a combination of irreverent and irrelevant. The characters do little other than hang out at bars listening to Irish reels (played on fiddles, of course, because nobody has something so vulgar as a violin in a de Lint/Brandon novel). And, just in case the savvy reader hadnt picked that Brandon is somewhat of a de Lint fan, theres even a nod to Jilly Coppercorn, under whom one of the characters in The Wild Reel apparently studied.

While I completely understand that authors are inspired by particular writers, and may wish to explore similar themes or methods, I found The Wild Reel to be somewhat of a disappointment largely because it never felt like a novel that could stand on its own. While the book is overall quite a competent novel, Brandon never really makes the book his own, which is a shame.

To be honest, if Id come to Brandons book not having read de Lint, I would likely have formed a different opinion of it. The novel traces a few weeks in the life of Irish painter Natty Newlyn, who has been having strange dreams about a Fey king. Being an urban fantasy, of course, these dreams are influenced by the said king, who longs to wed Natty due to her presence. 'When Natty travels to Australia for a friends wedding, she is followed by her would-be suitor, who continues his attempt to command her life. Natty, however, has designs on a musician, and the two begin a love affair. Its a fun story, and Brandon has a light, deft touch that makes it a quick and simple read.

However, qualms about de Lint aside, I do have to say that the narrative as a whole didnt quite work for me. I felt that the Fey kings reason for wanting to marry Natty was never fully reasoned, and his attempts to woo her never really seemed anything other than token. Although this was meant to be the main plot arc, it always felt like something supplementary, almost as though it were an aside. Likewise, the vignettes involving various other Fey characters seemed almost randomly thrown in, and did very little to further the plot in any way. Unfortunately, too, the end of the novel felt very breathless and rushed, with characters making decisions that seemed rash and odd, and I found the whole climax quite confusing and, well, anticlimactic.

The Wild Reel is certainly a quick read. It whizzes along with pleasant prose and similarly pleasant themes. If youre in the mood for something thats lightly fantastic and thats peppered with a few well-drawn and interesting characters, it might be for you. Similarly, other fans of de Lint may well enjoy this book, as it is so very close to his work. However, the almost fan-fiction nature of this work worked as a detraction for me, Im afraid.

 Review: The Wild Reel by Paul Brandon

Purchase The Wild Reel.

Other books by Paul Brandon you might like: Swim the Moon

Forthcoming reviews: Murder on Ice by Alina Adams (mystery); White Tiger by Kylie Chan (fantasy)

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