My admiration for Fables has been chronicled several times in this blog, as recently as last month, so I won’t go in to what the stories are, though I will talk about how this one ties in to the canon of the comic book series. This time, we follow Peter, the famous piper who picked a pickled pepper, and was really into pumpkins, as he struggles with the evil deeds of his brother, Max, the Pied Piper, while trying to win the affections of Bo, the woman who used to tend sheep when she was little. Got it? Good. Because the summary is more convoluted than the story itself.
The other question that you might be asking is how a narrative novel set in this world compares to the graphic sort that everyone already knows. And the answer is: Eh. I had some issues with the narrative itself. It seemed to be way too tell-y and not enough show-y, which makes a certain sort of sense, since the author is a guy who’s more accustomed to telling an artist what the scene will look like, instead of taking the time to build up the setting through his own words. Of course, the novel really shines when the author starts creating the characters’ dialogue, which, again, makes perfect sense, considering the medium for which he usually writes. The story is compelling and readable, but you might find yourself thinking that the narrative is a bit stilted. I know I did, at least.
I had further issues with the story, namely with the pacing. The story is one of sibling rivalry, and the crux of that rivalry — and, thus, the capstone of the entire plot — seemed fairly insignificant to me. Maybe that was intentional. Max wasn’t painted as a likable character, so he may have used that point as an excuse to create the rivalry that he needed in order to pursue Peter. It just seemed like Max was either hideously evil for the sake of being hideously evil, or he became hideously evil over something that seemed inconsequential. Either way, in relation to the story, it just didn’t work for me. I was able to accept it as it was and read on, but that point stood out to me as a potential problem.
I also had issues with the way Max’s character developed. The author went through all the motions of giving Max a motivation, a method, and a means to go from a whiny kid to a powerful, vengeful, evil character, but it happened too quickly, and the crux of that transition wasn’t enough to convince me that it was enough. It was sort of like sitting through the prequel trilogies for Star Wars, where we know that Vader is going to turn into the evil ruler of the galaxy, we just don’t know exactly how it’s going to happen. In the end, what the author dreams up to be the deciding factor in that transition falls far too short to justify a transition that large. It was hard to make the jump to accept that part of the story, since I had already been forced to make a jump to believe that the crux was significant enough to cause it.
Lastly, I had issues with the pacing of the ending. The novel builds up this tension of bringing Max and Peter together, by telling the story from Medieval times interspersed with telling the story from modern times. The author manages to do this well, enough so that you’ll find yourself getting anxious over the confrontation. Then, just as it looks like the battle is about to get started, it just ends. I read through 350+ pages of the book, and it was resolved neatly in two. There was no battle where it looked like Max might best Peter in the modern day, and there was no real sense of drama there. In most novels I’ve read, the protagonist and antagonist meet three times, once where the antagonist wins, once where the protagonist appears to win, and then once where the protagonist wins for real. This novel lacked that all together, and it was terribly disappointing.
I get the feeling that anyone who’s a fan of Fables will read this novel, and I doubt I could convince anyone not to. Truth be told, it’s not a bad novel, it’s just poorly told. In a more capable author’s hands, I think this story could have been much more interesting and have a depth that this novel lacks. I just think that the author should stick to telling the graphic novel stories, and find an accomplished narrative author to tell those stories.