The Fables comics are an infinitely entertaining and moving series of comics about a world in which every fable, legend and belief of humanity has been chased from the worlds of fantasy to exile on Earth, hiding in a secret side-street in Manhattan. The chaser is The Adversary, an evil emperor, and his numberless goblin shock-troops. This is such rich material, as it allows for tellings and retellings of every beloved story of humanity.
In Peter & Max: A Fables Novel, writer Bill Willingham tells a key piece of the story in prose form, and proves that he's every bit as wonderful a prose-writer as he is a comics-writer. Peter and Max is the story of two brothers, Peter (Piper, also Pumpkin Eater) and Max (the Pied Piper), who grow estranged from one another on the eve of the Adversary's invasion of their homeworld, and lose themselves in a blood-soaked Black Forest, where they are both fired by the crucible of war and magic into men whose innocence will never be recovered.
Max is the villain here, jealous of Peter's inheritance of Frost, the magic flute of their father. Max acquires Fire, another powerful magic flute, from Frau Totenkinder, the evil witch of the Black Forest, and he and Fire warp each other into something monstrous.
Peter, meanwhile, is orphaned in Hamelin, where he becomes an accomplished thief, escaping from the worst circumstances with the help of Frost, and forever pining for his lost love, Bo Peep, disappeared into the evil woods.
The action moves from this mythic backstory to a contemporary tale in which Max has come at last to contemporary Fabletown, and Peter must hunt him, even though it means his certain doom.
As with the Fables comics, Willingham manages to merge the gentle, meandering feel of fairy tales with a breakneck, contemporary pacing -- a very clever trick indeed. The characters and stories are very engaging, the tension real, the mythos powerful. There's everything to like about Peter & Max, even if you've never cracked a Fables comic (though you probably will, once you've finished reading the book).
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