Up the Mysterly River
was Bill Willingham's first kids' novel, published by a small press in the 1990s, long before his multi-award-winning (and most excellent) Fables
graphic novel got underway. After languishing out of print for many years, Tor Books has finally brought it back to shelves. It's high time, as this is a ripping good read that explores many of the themes that make Fables
such a tremendous read, but in a form that's accessible and appropriate for younger readers.
Mysterly River opens with Max the Wolf, a young cub scout, wandering in a mysterious forest with no memory of how he got there. We quickly learn that Max the Wolf is an accomplished boy detective of the sort that ripping kids' books are written about, and it seems reasonable to assume that this is going to be a book in that mold.
And then Max meets the talking badger, Banderbrock, who is a fearsome warrior himself, and who believes that he has come to the badger afterlife (he can remember dying). Just as Max and Banderbrock are getting their bearings, they encounter McTavish the Monster, a foul-tempered tomcat who is fleeing from a savage hunter and his baying hounds. The hunter turns on Max and Banderbrock, and they overcome the odds to best him, and they escape him with their lives, now a company of three.
So begins a fast-moving, utterly charming fairy tale about a mysterious land populated by speaking animals and the wicked cutters -- a brotherhood of vicious swordsmen who use their magical blue swords to cut away at their prey, turning them into inoffensive, narratively convenient literary constructs in keeping with whatever the current storytelling vogue demands. Read the rest