Zackery Moore Moore itibaren Bagpura, Rajasthan 312023, Hindistan
Peter & Max: A FABLES novel, by Bill Willingham Yes, that's right: novel. For those familiar with the graphic novels, this comes as something as a surprise, but trust me, it's a pleasant one. This takes place in the same universe as the graphic novels, and within the same timeline. It's not necessary to have read the series to understand this book, as Willingham does quite a good job of setting up the universe in the first few pages, but a familiarity with events and characters do lead to some rather nice ah-ha! moments. The text is gorgeously illustrated by FABLES veteran Steve Leialoha, and while never intrusive or demanding, the deceptively simple pen and ink drawings add a great deal. In this novel, we're introduced to a new set of characters. While part of the Fables, they've never been mentioned, but the stories that have been woven together are still ones we're familiar with. Peter Piper, younger son of a traveling minstrel family, is a prodigy on the flute (as it was called back when it was still a forward facing pipe). He and his disabled wife, Bo Peep, live quietly on the outer edges of the Farm, mostly keeping to themselves, until Bigby tells him that his brother Max is in the mundy world. As Peter sets out to find his brother- to kill or be killed by him- his journey is interspersed with his previous journeys, from the end of his childhood until he and Bo found crossing to the sanctuary of the mundy world. Peter is not the only brother we follow; Max is no poorly drawn caricature, no suggestion rather than presence of evil. He is, in every way, truly reprehensible, but it is a damnation we get to see him crafting for himself. The story is spare, even simple within the greater context of the series, but beautifully drawn. Willingham is an artist and a storyteller first, a writer second, but the spare lyricism of his text leaves haunting images hovering in the back of your mind. He's a very visual writer- when we're introduced to a character, we're instantly given what they look like and what they're wearing. Part of him is clearly still writing for the artists he works with. It's never obnoxious, though, no lengthy description of fabric or styles. Within a single, generally quite short, paragraph, he gives us a snapshot of the person and moves on. Most of the novel's greatest successes come in its surprises. There are really three separate storylines weaving through: Peter's present journey, his past journey, and Max's past journey. The formatting isn't exact or precise, there's no set length or even set pattern to the timelines. Half a page of the present after a chapter of the past can have the same impact, but when you turn the page, you're never entirely sure where you'll be next. It balances, though, which is the really surprising thing. Without looking back through the book, I don't think I could say if each timeline has an equal amount of text, but it doesn't matter. Whatever the word count may be, it's all woven seamlessly together. Another great surprise is Max. Max is Peter's older, vindictive, and certifiably insane brother. He's not so much a villain as a purposeful incarnation of evil, yet he's never a caricature. Seeing things from his persective, we SEE how we warps things to suit his nature, how he willfully changes the appearance of reality to better mesh with his twisted interpretation of things. It's not that we pity him- we don't-but rather that we watch the choices he makes lead him on. It's not a complete corruption. While he is unrepentantly truly evil, it wasn't so much a change as a deepening. We don't start out with 'good' Max; he's as sullen, selfish, and mean as only a fourteen year old boy can be. What makes him so startling is that, in many ways, he's much more clearly drawn than Peter, theoretically the main character of the piece. Peter is the good child, we get that. He's resourceful, talented, and has a good, loyal heart that in later centuries comes to be weighted down by sorrow. Max is, in many ways, defined by his hatred of Peter, but Peter rarely if ever seems defined by Max. In any way. It almost makes Max pitiable, that so many centuries and so much energy and effort are spent despising and trying to form revenge against a brother that just never thinks of him that way. It's really in Max that we see most of the novel, and most of the true ties to the series. Outside of the obvious connections, the characters and the timelines, it's a dark novel. A really dark novel. And that's where so much of its beauty lies. FABLES as a whole, and this book is no exception, is hauntingly, achingly, beautifully, mercilessly dark universe, where the crippling need for a happy ending is lost to unromantic pragmatism. People get hurt, people get betrayed, war is ugly and violent and gory, and love doesn't fix everything. There are true horrors within the pages, yet they're told with the same unapologetic brevity as the triumphs. It's another balance, and one much truer to the original fairy tales than the Disney fluff most people know. Still, for all the other aspects that balance out so well, there are some things that feel lacking. Bo, for instance, despite being Peter's 'storybook love' as Max calls it, only feels fleshed out in one scene, and that very near the beginning. We see very little of her in any storyline, despite her importance, and when she is there, it's more the idea of her than any actual person. It's not her story, not really, but given how essential she is to Peter's story, it felt like she should have been more of a presence, or at least more of a defined character. Frau Totenkinder remains deliciously ambiguous, and more than a little ambivalent, and it's rather nice to see Bigby as a bad boy again. Not that he's working against the Amnesty, but simply that Peter is someone who had a very bad encounter with him before the Adversary, and therefore still carries that antipathy and wariness. It's a minor quibble, though, against an absolutely gorgeous book. If you have read and enjoyed the graphic novels, this is a must read. Even if you haven't, but you enjoy dark stories or retellings of the original fairy tales, I strongly recommend this title. It's one whose images linger long after the last page is turned and the cover is closed.