Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review: Fables by Bill Willingham

First, a confession: I lied up there in the title.

This is not a review. It's a rave, or perhaps a gush.

I fell head over heals in love with the series with volume one, Legends in Exile and proceeded to scramble through the books as fast as I could get my hands on them, with no pauses for rational thought, review, or evaluation(1).

I'm not being even remotely, slightly, or at all objective when I tell you: Don't make my mistake and leave these on the shelves for a rainy day sometime. Read them.

Read them all.


Oh, and try to make sure you have at least the first few volumes on hand when you start, so you don't have to wait between books, ok?

The basic premise is that the Fables, characters familiar to us from fairy tales, legends, myths, and novels from around the world, have had to flee their various worlds. Their foe, known for several books only as the Adversary, has driven them out, leaving only a small refuge in ours. As a result, characters who normally would be enemies or have nothing to do with one another, have had to find a way to live with one another in our world, and to hide themselves from us: Whatever they look like, they are all immortal (but not invulnerable) and often magical, and they can't risk us ordinary mortals, or mundanes, discovering them. They also want their Homeland(s) back, somehow, some day, and there are a number of magical threats other than the Adversary to trouble them.

I took a few notes on Legends in Exile, which is noir, fairy tale, and fantasy all mixed together. Rose Red, Snow White's sister, has been murdered, and the sheriff, the Big Bad Wolf, has to find the killer. Willingham knows how to use the various tropes he calls on well and has made the modern-day embodiments of famous fairy tale characters into strong characters I can root for. It's a fantastic mystery with unexpected turns, plenty of humor, some darkness, and a great resolution. It's also a fantastic opening for a series that never after that sticks to a single genre.

Different Fables volumes tackle, legend, fairy tale, spy story. They tell tales of survival, of revenge, of new beginnings, of unexpected endings, of triumphant love, and failed love, and friendship, loyalty, and betrayal, and pardon. Fair warning: They can be sweet, and they are often funny, but they can also be sad. While he doesn't have George R. R. Martin's legendary bloodthirstiness, Willingham is quite ruthless about character deaths. There are some real blows in the series.

As far as I can tell, each volume accomplishes that difficult feat of being readable as a stand-alone (I confess, I actually read volume 8, Wolves first) and as part of an arc. And then, the overall story accomplishes an even more difficult feat: It finishes out one arc and starts another while still going strong, and then moves forward to still another, without forgetting the consequences of prior acts. Am I addicted? Oh yes, I'm hopelessly, haplessly, and wonderfully addicted.

Part of the fun is the way Willingham plays with the details: The Beast's curse, for example, waxes and wanes for much of the series. If he and Beauty are having a good day, he's a handsome prince. If they're arguing, he gets more beastly looking. The Big Bad Wolf is the wolf of Red Riding Hood fame. He's also the wolf who huffed and puffed and blew the little pigs' house down, and how and why he came by that power is another tale entirely, one told through several different volumes.

I can't gush enough about the series' general awesomeness. My only real complaint is that now I'll have to wait until volume 19, and then probably through 20. Oh well. I guess I can reread them in the meantime, perhaps a little more slowly so as to savor them (Who am I kidding? It'll be at least a couple more reads before "slow" even starts to be an option).

(1)Ok, one pause. The Great Fables Crossover is getting its own, separate review later this week; it's a crossover and that makes it--odd.

Fyrefly reviewed them properly, one at a time.
If you have written one or know one I should include, let me know and I will add the link.

Links of Interest
Bill Willihngham's website
@BillWillingham on Twitter.

The Books on Amazon--which also gives you a list of the volumes in order
That said: Visit your local library! Seriously. Libraries are awesome.

Fables: Legends in Exile
Fables: Animal Farm
Fables: Storybook Love
Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers
Fables: The Mean Seasons
Fables: Homelands
Fables: Arabian Nights (and Days)
Fables: Wolves
Sons of Empire
Fables: The Good Prince
Fables: War and Pieces
Fables: The Dark Ages
The Great Fables Crossover
Fables: Witches
Fables: Rose Red
Fables: Super Team
Fables: Inherit the Wind
Cubs in Toyland
Fables 19 coming out in December 2013


  1. I read a few of these but just could not get very far in the series. Sorry!

  2. It was just a little too violent for my taste. Too many characters getting their heads blown off. And this was in volume two!

    1. Fair enough! I certainly can't promise you that it gets any less violent as it goes on (it doesn't).

  3. Replies
    1. I'm still wondering why it took me so long to read them. It's so exactly the kind of thing I like! On the other hand, at least this way I had 18 books waiting for me to enjoy, and now I can track down all the various spinoffs and side books which might be enough to tide me through while I'm waiting for volume 19 to come out!