Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review 2012 #3 - Bill Willingham's Peter and Max

Peter and Max: A Fables Novel by Bill Willingham
Published by: Vertigo
Publication Date: November 6th, 2012
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Peter and Max lived an idyllic life, traveling the countryside of their mythic world as wandering minstrels. Their little caravan with their talking mule wandered from town to town, playing at festivals and giving the Pipers a rather glorious life. The highlight of the year was when they arrived at their good friend Squire Peep's house and had a glorious party before continuing on together to the towns local festival. Though this year is different. Max is growing into a young man and his sullen moods have started to surface, whereas young Peter keeps thinking of Squire Peep's daughter Bo.

That night their world will change forever. It's not just that Peter and Max's father gives the family's one item of value, the flute Frost, to Peter, when Max is the oldest, it's that the rumor's of a great invading army come to pass. The Peep's estate is seized and everyone is locked away. The heads of the two families devise a plan. They will escape through the haunted and dangerous woods and make for Hamlin, a fortified town nearby that has to have withstood the forces of their Adversary.

Breaking into two parties, they go forth into the gloom, little knowing that it is not the advancing army that is their true threat, but that Max is. Overlooked by his family, his rightful inheritance taken away, the dark forest awakens something even darken within him. If he has anything to say about it, the people whom he entered the forest with won't make it out alive. Hundreds of years later and in a different world, similar to theirs, Peter and Max's final confrontation will happen.

Fairy Tales are the stories told to make us behave as children. To make us learn that not doing as you're told and going into the woods at night are the most dangerous things in the world. Because the woods are where the nightmares live. As we grow older, this fear lessens, but underneath the knowledge we have gained with age and wisdom, there is still that underlying fear. The woods is dangerous. Peter and Max bring these childhood fears back to life. Don't venture into the woods, not because there's witches and creatures to prey on you, but because Max is there. A man driven insane by his desire for what he believes is his right. Living his life between indolence and sheer rage, he haunts to woods in his quest to find Peter. This book is like Silence of the Lambs goes feudal. A sibling rivalry of fire and ice that will leave as many people dead in it's wake as possible.

Max is the kind of sociopathic antihero you just can't get enough of. This is a killer, who at the height of his power, has witches and other powerful creatures scared. His love of gaudy clothes combined with his desire for servitude, make crossing his path one very dangerous prospect. And into this man is weaved the basis for the Piped Piper of Hamlin. What kind of sick and twisted person, when they don't get what they want, would steal all your children? Max is the answer. Max legitimizes and makes sense of a rather odd Fairy Tale. He is the Brothers Grimm's very own Hannibal Lecter.

There is one thing though that needs to be addressed, how this fits into the Fables Oeuvre. For those who don't know (which you should by now given that my ninth best read of last year was in this series), Fables is a comic series created by Bill Willingham about storybook characters being real and living in seclusion without the rest of the world knowing. They were forced out of their homelands and into our world. Parts of our world mimic parts of theirs, the Hamlin of Peter and Max's world is similar to ours, and our world's reverence of Max entertains him to no end.

Your main question at this point is probably, will I understand this book without following the series. Simply, yes. They explain enough that you get the Fables "Universe" but it isn't essential to the plot. There are a few jokes you won't get here or there, but overall the Fables world doesn't drive the story. Which leads me to an important question. Why even make this a Fables novel? It would have been perfectly fine, perhaps even better, standing on it's own. Strip it down of any previously needed knowledge and then expand it. Because really, this book could have held my attention even longer, which is rare, usually I'm the one bemoaning the lack of editors in this day and age. This was just an amazing book, which makes me realize one important thing... if Bill Willingham can write this good, why is he wasting his time on a hit or miss comic series when he could be writing novels, novels that could rival some of the best fantasy writers out there? Really, that's the only thing that made me sad about this, knowing that Willingham is this awesome and usually performing below his abilities... well, that and the fact that I hated the one drawing in the book that was in the 20s I think... it looked like Leialoha was imitating Leyendecker, when all his drawings previously had a very Arthur Rackham, traditional storybook vibe... pick a style and stick to it, duh.


I really loved this one as well and am constantly craving more novels. He is very skilled at wordcrafting and I hope for more of these novels popping up in the future. I think that it is simply a Fables setting makes it a novel within that. I understand why you question it though. It is a story that stands well on itself.

Yes, I totally want MORE OF THESE. I just think that if it wasn't "Fables" perhaps it would reach more people... though Fables does have a huge following...

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