Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fables 3 and 4 by Bill Willingham

Storybook Love, the third book in the Fables series, begins with an American folktale, “Bag O’ Bones”. Jack (the same Jack of beanstalk and giant slaying fame) goes to the American south to join the Civil War. When crossing a swamp, he comes across a man who just may be the devil, and wins a magic bag from him in a poker game. Then he finds out just what happens when death itself is imprisoned in such a bag.

The following story, “A Sharp Operation”, is about the fate of a man who finds out about the inhabitants of Fabletown and jumps to the obvious conclusion: they’re vampires. He’s seen the movies. He’s read Anne Rice. He knows.

With “Storybook Love”, the main plotline, so to speak, begins. Some of the issues left unresolved at the end of Animal Farm are finally dealt with, and things between Snow White and Bigby Wolf take a very interesting turn.

Finally, “Barleycorn Brides” is about how the Lilliputians dealt with a very serious problem: the fact that only men had escaped from the Homelands.

The artwork in this book is absolutely gorgeous. But then, with Linda Medley (of Castle Waiting fame), Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham among the artists, that’s hardly surprising. I enjoyed these stories a lot. "Storybook Love" was probably the most satisfying. It’s better developed, and I liked how it dealt with themes like love, trust, vulnerability and obsession. But I also loved the first and the last stories, especially because they’re stories in which the series’ fairy and folk tale feel is particularly strong.

On to the fourth volume, March of the Wooden Soldiers. This one starts with a heartbreaking tale told by Boy Blue. He was one of the very last Fables to escape from the Adversary and leave the Homelands, and he tells the story of those who bravely stayed behind and fought so that one last vessel could make it to our world. He also tells the story of his doomed love affair with Red Riding Hood.

Boy Blue’s escape was over a century ago, and that was the last time anyone made it out of the Homelands. Until now, that is. Because Red Riding Hood arrives to Fabletown, and tells everyone that she was enslaved by the Adversary for all this time. Bigby Wolf is immediately suspicious. Can she be trusted? How did she escape? Meanwhile, Jack claims to have seen new and hostile fables in the city. Something big is definitely about to happen. Something that cannot possibly be good.

March of the Wooden Soldiers is quite a bit darker than the other books in the series. There’s a lot of plot development in this one. It seems that the big questions – Who is the Adversary? What is he or she after? Are the fables safe in our world? – are now one step closer to being answered. Of course, at the end of the book we still don’t really know much for sure. I can’t wait to see how everything will turn out at the end of the series.

I just love Fables. I love the writing, the intelligent storytelling, the beautiful artwork, the characters and the setting. And of course, the concept itself. It’s so much fun to find characters from my favourite fairy tales in this story. I really like the fact that Bill Willingham’s concept of a fable is so wide. The characters he uses come not only from traditional fairy tales, but from folklore, legends, myths (Pelinor! Britomart!) and such classics as Pinocchio, Gulliver’s Travels and The Wizard of Oz.

So yeah, two more great books in a great series.

(Originally posted here.)

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