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Bill Willingham – Peter & Max

March 5, 2010

21. Peter & Max: A Fables Novel by Bill Willingham, illustrations by Steve Leialoha (2009)

Fables, related (it takes place roughly around Vol. 9 of the main series, but the timing is not particularly critical)

Read By: Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton)
Length: 8h 08 min (400 pages)

Genre: Fantasy

Started: 19 February 2010
Finished: 25 February 2010

Where did it come from? Borrowed from a friend.
Why do I have it? I love the main Fables series, and the world that Willingham’s created, plus I love re-told fairy tales in general.

Sibling rivalry
works out better when one is
not a psychopath.

Summary: Peter & Max is the tale of two brothers: Peter and Max Piper. Growing up, Max was always jealous of his younger brother’s talent, and the attention paid to Peter by their parents, and the pretty young Bo Peep. When their father passes Frost, the magical flute that is a familial heirloom, to Peter, Max is enraged enough to commit a truly desperate and terrible act that divides the family forever. Both brothers are lost in the Black Forest, but eventually make their way to the town Hamelin, which is suffering under Imperial occupation. Peter becomes a member of a guild of thieves, but Max travels a much darker path. Now in possession of a flute of his own – one with a much darker magic than Frost’s – Max becomes the infamous Pied Piper. After a confrontation between the brothers, Peter and Bo flee Hamelin for the newly-formed Fabletown, where they will be safe from the Emperor’s advancing armies. There they live quietly for centuries… until Peter gets word that Max has returned, and is inflicting his dark magic onto this world as well.

Review: As much as I love the Fables graphic novels, I often find myself wanting a little more detail, more backstory, and more description – I find myself longing for some good ol’ comfortably-familiar prose, in other words. In that respect, Peter and Max was absolutely wonderful. Everything I love about the Fables universe was there; the clever interweaving of multiple fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and folk stories into a logical whole, the slight twists and interpretations of those stories into something a little more grown-up and plausible, and the whole worldbuilding aspect of how the world(s) of fairy tales relate to ours. The dialogue is as quick-witted as ever, and there are some parts that are truly laugh-out-loud hilarious, as well as some that are disturbingly dark. We also get some fascinating backstory on a few of Fabletown’s most mysterious residents, and some interesting new characters as well.

While it was nice having a single story fleshed out in more detail, the story itself was not without a few problems. It’s told in an interesting way of alternating chapters – cutting between current-day Peter seeking out his brother, and scenes from their childhood explaining what happened – which is very effective at keeping the story moving along. However, for all of Willingham’s clever twists, it is still essentially a fairy tale at heart, which means that parts of the story are pretty predictable. Likewise, the characters don’t have much depth to them, nor is the plot itself particularly layered or complex. But, again: fairy tale. It’s not meant to be High Literature; it tells an interesting story, and tells it well, and that’s really all I wanted from it.

I was a little concerned about listening to the audiobook instead of reading it, since I was worried that I would be missing out on some key illustrations. However, I also got my hands on a paper copy, and while Steve Leialoha’s illustrations are lovely, there’s not as many of them as I was expecting, and I think they reinforce the tone of the book rather than being responsible for creating it. There is also a very short (8-page) comic at the end of the paper book that details what happened to the characters during the war against the Emperor, but it’s not critical to understanding the story, and doesn’t contain much that a seasoned Fables reader couldn’t have guessed. In other words: Audiobook listening totally okay. Wil Wheaton was a fun reader, and a good match for Peter’s voice, although his interpretation of some of the deeper-voiced characters – Bigby, for example – was a little bit off. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Fables fans should definitely read it, but it will also appeal to other folks who like reinterpreted fairy tales. The first chapter provides a succinct summary of the Fables universe, so the graphic novels are not at all a prerequisite for enjoying Peter & Max. (Although, on the other hand, if you like reinterpreted fairy tales, you should probably be reading the graphic novels anyways! :)

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: 1330v, Jenny’s Books, Largehearted Boy, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, Stacked, Stainless Steel Droppings, The Written World
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: For most of his long years, Peter Piper wanted nothing more than to live a life of peace and safety in some remote cozy cottage, married to his childhood sweetheart, who grew into the only woman he could ever love.

Cover Thoughts: I don’t think most of the pictures online do it justice (it’s shinier and the branches are more evident in person), but oooh, it’s creepy and great. Max just looks so sinister perched atop the tangle of branches.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 5, 2010 4:55 pm

    Wait…so this is a prose novel instead of a graphic novel? Neat! I’m working my way through the Fables series (next up is Vol. 6) and really enjoying it, but like you I’d love to see more prose background!

    • March 8, 2010 8:44 am

      Eva – Definitely check out Peter & Max, then. I’d say you could read it any time after Vol. 8 or so, but you may want to skip the comics story at the end until after you’ve read through Vol. 11.

  2. March 7, 2010 12:07 pm

    I like your haiku! And although I know it’s a fairy tale, I would have enjoyed slightly more character depth.

    • March 8, 2010 8:45 am

      Jenny – Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that the two can’t (or shouldn’t) coexist… just that I’m a little more forgiving with one-dimensional characters in fairy tales than in other types of fiction.

  3. March 17, 2010 2:16 pm

    Awesome! I’m just starting into vol.9 of the graphic novels so I’m going to grab this one at the library soon.

  4. Jeremy permalink
    May 10, 2010 9:20 pm

    Just about to start the book – LOVE the series, definitely my favourite ongoing comic. And it keeps getting better!


  1. Bill Willingham – Fables: Fairest, Vol. 1: Wide Awake | Fyrefly's Book Blog

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