Book Review: Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham et al. (Series, #1) (Graphic Novel)
All the characters from the fairy tales we know actually lived in that folklore world but were forced out into exile in modern-day New York thanks to an enemy known only as The Adversary. Snow White, right-hand to the ruler of Fabletown, seeks to keep everyone in line. But that gets more difficult when her own sister, Rose Red, is murdered. A reformed Big Bad Wolf, now their sheriff, promises to help her track down his killer.
Being a long-time fan of The 10th Kingdom, a story about the characters of folklore existing in a parallel universe to our own that some modern-day Americans accidentally visit, I was intrigued by this idea of a similar story in reverse. Instead of being engaging and a fun escape, though, my experience with it is best summed-up as meh. It’s a cool idea that is saddled to a ho-hum plot and flat characters, thereby rendering it a mediocre read.
The basic idea is some unseen Adversary has driven the fairy tale folk out of their land and into exile in our own. In our land, they’ve all agreed to give everyone a clean slate to start over. So far so good. From here though things go from interesting and semi-unique to basically a noir plot we’ve all read before wrapped up in 2-dimensional fairy tale characters. Big Bad Wolf is the hard-boiled detective. Snow White is his lady assistant. A noir version of a fairy tale could have been good, but instead the flattest elements of both genres are mashed together, rather than the best of each. What you end up with is a wolf without his fangs or a hard-boiled detective without his cigarettes and womanizing ways. The grit is just removed leaving an overly-sanitized world.
I do enjoy a mystery plot but I also expect them to keep me guessing. I knew the solution long before the end, and I’m guessing most other readers would too.
The art is mostly good, although the depiction of the talking pig gave me goosebumps in a bad way. He doesn’t really fit in to the feel of the rest of the art. However, the art is colorful and easy to follow, and made reading the story go quickly.
Overall, if a reader loves fairy tales and graphic novels and likes the idea of seeing fairy tale characters in modern-day New York, they will probably enjoy this book. Readers looking for an in-depth exploration of a fairy tale character or to see them more well-rounded in a non-fairy tale setting will be disappointed. Similarly, readers looking for a tough mystery to solve will want to look elsewhere.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: I remember I bought it at a comic book store, but I don’t remember which one.
“Lizzie Borden took an axe; gave her mother forty whacks….”
Any New Englander knows the nursery rhyme based on the true crime story of Mr. and Mrs. Borden who were murdered with an axe in 1892. In spite of being tried and acquitted for the murders, their daughter (in the case of Mrs. Borden, step-daughter), was widely believed to actually be responsible for the murders. In this book, she definitely was, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.
A darkness is trying to take over Fall River, Massachusetts, and Lizzie and her ailing sister Emma are all that might stand between the town and oblivion, with Lizzie’s parents being the first casualties in the battle.
I grew up chanting the nursery rhyme about Lizzie Borden the first half of which is quoted above (this perhaps says an awful lot about New Englanders, but I digress), and I also love tales from the Lovecraft universe, which also originated in New England. When I heard about this book that mashed up the two, I put it on my wishlist. Lo and behold, my future sister-in-law, who had never even seen my wishlist, bought it for me for Christmas last year. I thought this would be the perfect read for the fantasy challenge, and although it was a bit different than what I was expecting, I still enjoyed the mix of Lovecraft and women’s history that Priest has woven and am eagerly anticipating reading the sequel.
The story is told through a combination of first person accounts from Lizzie, Emma, and Nance, diary-style entries by their neighbor doctor, letters, police and fire reports, and first person ramblings of a professor from Miskatonic University (another Lovecraft element). Some readers may be put off by the combination of first person perspectives, but I’ve always enjoyed this style, particularly when it includes things like letters and police reports. I felt that it was one of the strengths of the book, and I also particularly enjoyed getting to see both Emma’s and Lizzie’s perspectives, as well as that of Lizzie’s lover, Nance.
The Lovecraft mash-up basically is that some sort of Dark One in the deep is out to turn everyone on the seacoast either into worshippers or victims or literally turn them into monstrous ones who live in the deep. Emma and Lizzie’s parents were among the first to begin succumbing to this infection and that is why Lizzie had to kill them. Lizzie and Emma now are conducting research, trying to figure out how to prevent the Dark One from actually rising up. This is all extremely Lovecraftian, including the fact that some of these developments don’t make a ton of sense, but things just don’t make sense in the dark fantasy world of Lovecraft, so I was ok with that. Readers new to the world of Lovecraft might be a bit more frustrated by how inexplicable most things to do with the Dark Ones and the deep are, however.
I particularly enjoyed how Priest explores how societal and cultural norms of 1890s New England affects women’s lives. Emma could be a scientist now that women are being accepted into colleges, but she chooses to instead write her scientific papers under a male pseudonym because she believes she would never garner respect otherwise. Lizzie and Nance are in love and must hide it, although Lizzie often feels why should she bother when she is already disgraced after the trial. The clashes between Lizzie and Emma regarding both her affair with Nance and the fact that Lizzie believes in trying out magical and fantastical defenses against the Dark One whereas Emma believes purely in science are interesting reading. They are two very different people who are thrust together both by virtue of being siblings and by the fact that as women in the 1890s their lives are limited.
On the other hand, in spite of liking the characters of the neighbor doctor and the Miskatonic professor and enjoying the exploration of Lizzie’s and Emma’s relationship and getting to see some of Emma’s character, I couldn’t help but feel that Lizzie didn’t get a chance to be enough in this book. Lizzie Borden is such a looming large figure in local history, even on the book cover she presents as a bad-ass in a period skirt holding a bloody axe. In contrast in the book she spends a lot of time dealing with her annoying sister. Similarly, I’m not a fan of the fact that Lizzie does very little of rescuing herself in this book, which is, I believe, if the historic Lizzie really did kill her parents, what she actually did in real life. To me Lizzie has always been a woman who said fucking enough and took an axe and dealt violently and finally with her problems. Whereas in the book, she starts off off-screen that way (we don’t actually see her kill her parents) and she sort of tapers off. Much as I enjoyed seeing her messed up relationship with Emma, I couldn’t help but feel it would have ended more powerfully if she’d said fucking enough and whacked Emma through the skull for being such an insufferable bitch and in the way all the time. This was my main issue with the book.
My second, more minor, issue is that I felt the plot takes too long to build up to actual horrifying events and/or murders. The first murders, as I mentioned before, happened off-screen. The beginning of the book then is a build-up of a lot of tension with not much actual gore or murder occurring. I should mention that I was watching “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” on tv at the same time as I was reading this book. In that show, Lizzie kills at least one person an episode. Now, some of that gets over the top, but it does get the idea of the pacing one would expect from this type of story right. More mayhem. More murder. More danger. More often.
On a positive note, the scenes between Lizzie and Nance are beautifully done, and while I was frustrated to see Lizzie turn a bit into a lovesick fool, I was very glad it was happening with Nance. Their relationship and dynamic jumped off the page and really brightened up the book for me.
The set-up at the end of the book for the sequel is well-done, although I’m uncertain how the series can proceed forward so far removed from the actual historical event, I am excited to read it and see what happens.
Overall, this Lovecraft fantastical take on the Lizzie Borden of history and what led to the murders of her parents hits just the right note for Lovecraft fans. Readers who are new to the dark fantasy world of Lovecraft may be a bit surprised by the slow burn of the horror and how much of it winds up not making much sense, but those readers who can embrace this style of dark fantasy will enjoy it. Those looking for a bad-ass Lizzie should be aware that this Lizzie only acts when absolutely necessary and then with restraint, and they should perhaps tune into the made for tv movie Lizzie Borden Took An Ax instead. Recommended to fans of Lovecraft who are interested in getting some local history woven in to the New England settings they are familiar with from the Lovecraft universe.
4 out of 5 stars
This erotica short story collection was quite hit or miss for me. The stories that excelled were creative and unique, but the stories that did not featured some problematic elements that prevented me from enjoying the erotica.
When I read a short story collection, I always individually rate the stories. My rating of the collection as a whole is just the average of those ratings. The highest rating any story in this collection received from me was four stars. There were three stories I gave four stars, and two of them were the first two stories in the collection, so it definitely started out strong for me. One is a F/F story featuring a woman who is also a flower (or a flower who is also a woman). It is poetic and heart-quickening. The second story features a sentient house that has missed its owner and demands attention. This made me laugh, and I enjoyed the oddity. It read like a lighter-hearted, erotica version of dark fantasies where there is an evil house–this one is just horny. The third four star read was enjoyable for a different reason. It’s a scifi erotica where two lovers are in a spaceship that is running out of air. They decide to make love, even though they will die quicker. It was so heart-breaking and beautiful that I wished it was a whole book.
Four of the stories received three stars. In each case I felt the story either didn’t take an idea far enough or the story wasn’t long enough to tell the story. Take it farther, and these all could be just as good as the first three I discussed.
Unfortunately, there were two stories that were big clunkers for me, with each receiving only one star, and they both had almost the same problem. “Hunting Hound” has a woman mating with a werewolf. She meets him when she is out riding, and they start making out against a tree, with her a willing participant. Then this happens.
“Stop” she said, and his face darted in toward her own with a low growl. “Too late to stop.” (loc 1650)
He proceeds to penetrate her. There is nothing sexy about a woman asking a man to stop and him claiming it’s too late and proceeding to rape her. It is never too late to stop, and it’s never too late for a partner to change their mind. It really bothers me that this type of scene is still being presented as sexy. I know everyone gets off to their own thing, but this is such a clear scene of consent being removed and then ignored that I just cannot say to each their own in this case. I also want to mention that the book blurb claims that this story features “consensual sexual violence” but it definitely did not read that way to me.
“Summer Nights,” which also received one star, has a similar problem. This story features a woman who keeps seeing the same mysterious man at parties. She goes out to the woods behind the house at one of these parties, and he follows her. She finds out he’s a vampire. She stands in the woods talking to him, holding a wineglass, when this happens:
“he struck like a train, his swinging backhand sending the wineglass flying toward the treeline, and I faintly registered the tinkling shatter of it, perhaps hitting a rock, or a fallen log.” (loc 5654)
She finds the fact that he just hit a glass out of her hand to be massively sexy and proceeds to bang him. This is, again, something I feel like I shouldn’t need to say, but there is nothing sexy about a partner violently hitting something out of your hand. Nothing. Sexy. This is not a sign that oh man she should totally bang this vampire. It is a sign she should run because she is alone in the woods with a violent motherfucker. This could have so easily been foreplay if, instead of hitting a glass out of her hand, he said something like, “I want you now,” and he gently took the glass from her hand and tossed it away. Or if she said, “I want you so much,” and tossed the glass over her shoulder. It would be so easy to have the same erotica about a powerful vampire alone in the woods with a woman without it turning into problematic territory.
I truly wish these last two stories were not in the collection. The rest of the collection is creative, features some fun queer content (the F/F story and a gender-swapping story), and in the case of the best three stories, has some unique ideas. Where the collection flounders is, interestingly enough, with the two most mainstream stories that take the agency out of the hands of the women in them and instead retreats to the tired idea of violent men being sexy.
Overall, if a reader is looking for some quick fantasy erotica, most of the stories in this book will satisfy this need, although I would recommend skipping over “Hunting Hound” and “Summer Nights.” The reader who enjoys the other stories for their uniqueness will most likely be disappointed by the “sexy violence” in these two.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
When two of Toby’s good friends’ children go missing from their own bedroom and another won’t wake up from being asleep, they call Toby in immediately to look for them. Soon the King of Cats reports that some of his kingdom’s children are missing too, and Quentin’s human girlfriend disappears as well. It quickly becomes clear that it’s time for the 100 year cycle of Blind Michael’s Hunt. Blind Michael, the Luidaeg’s brother, is incredibly powerful, and only three roads lead to his realm. Toby can only take each road once. That means she has only three chances to save the children and stop the Hunt.
I picked this book up immediately after finishing the second in the series and, oh man, it did not disappoint. This book presents an old school Brothers Grimm style blood-curdling, toes-curling fairy tale, peppered with characters we’ve already come to know and love.
Blind Michael is scary. What he does to the children is really scary. He turns the fae children into “Riders” monstrous twists on real fae features. He turns the human children into their horses for them to ride. Everything about Blind Michael and his twisted land scared the crap out of me, and I don’t scare easily. It was exactly the sort of scare I used to seek out as a child from the original Grimm Fairy Tales (the ones that are not cleaned up). This book goes a lot darker than the first two, which were already dark, and it went there in such a different way from the first two plots. The first two plots were entirely about murder, here we have someone stealing children from their beds. It’s a completely different type of scare and different sort of mystery for Toby to have to figure out.
The plot tells more than just this one mystery, though, it also brings out some information that is key to the overarching plot of the series. I really enjoyed how smoothly this was worked together, and I also must say I didn’t predict at all where it was going.
There are basically two themes in the book, one I appreciated and the other I didn’t particularly agree with. Let’s start with the one I didn’t agree with.
There’s a theme in the book that children on some level must deal with and be held responsible for the choices of their parents. Toby tries to pretend otherwise, but that doesn’t work out so well for her.
Blood will tell. I tried to pretend it wouldn’t that we could change, but blood always tells. We carry the burdens of our parents. (loc 312)
It basically reads as the idea that you can’t run away from your family or from your blood, your nature. Personally, I don’t like that frame of thought. You can leave your family of birth and not have to be held responsible for them. You are not your parents. You are your own person. You are not responsible for what your parents do after you leave home. So this theme didn’t sit well with me. Other readers who agree with this theme will obviously enjoy it more.
The other theme was one I was quite happy to see so directly addressed in an urban fantasy and that is of suicidal ideation. There are many different ways that suicidal ideation can manifest, but with Toby her symptoms are that she firmly believes her death is imminent and is planning for it, and she repeatedly throws herself into risk situations because she doesn’t care if she dies. Suicidal ideation essentially means that a person is lacking self-preservation instincts and is ok with dying. They won’t actually commit suicide but they will put themselves into dangerous situations because part of them does want to die. So they might run across a street without looking, go walking alone at 2am in a dangerous neighborhood, etc… Toby’s depression from the first two books has grown so much that she is now at this point, and people have started calling her out on it. Seeing her realize that she’s, in layman’s terms, got a death wish, is interesting and well-done. What I appreciate most about it is how directly it is addressed.
Because, dear October, you’re the most passively suicidal person I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something. You’ll never open your wrists, but you’ll run head-first into hell. You’ll have good reasons. You’ll have great reasons, even. And part of you will be praying that you won’t come out again. (loc 3876)
Overall, this entry in the series brings back the characters readers have come to love and puts them into a new mystery much more terrifying than the first two. Two strong themes in the book include nature/nurture/ties to parents and dealing with suicidal ideation. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed. This is a roller coaster ride of emotions and peril.
4 out of 5 stars
Toby Daye, changeling, private detective, and knight to the knowe of the powerful Sylvester, feels like she has her feet back under her after returning to human form after 14 years as a fish and also solving the murder of a powerful fae. When her liege requests she go investigate why he hasn’t heard from his niece in a while, she expects it to be a quick visit, although possibly a bit irritating since she has to bring along young Quentin, a teenaged full-blooded Daoine Sidhe fae. Sylvester’s niece just so happens to own the only fae tech company, and she claims that she has indeed been calling her uncle. But when an employee turns up dead and Toby finds out there have been two mysterious deaths previously, she realizes there’s more here than immediately meets the eye, particularly since she can’t read anything from the blood of the dead.
I enjoyed the first book in this urban fantasy series about a changeling investigator so much that I immediately checked out the second ebook from the Boston Public Library on my kindle. (If you have an ereader, definitely check out if your local public library will let you do this. It saves me so much money!) This book brought me right back into the wonderfully built world of Toby and offered up a new murder mystery even more mysterious than the first.
Readers of the first book know that Toby’s special fae power is the ability to read a person’s memories from tasting their blood. I found it startling and intriguing that McGuire immediately took this power away from Toby in the second book. There’s nothing to read in the victims’ blood. Why is that? It’s a plot I may have expected in the fourth or fifth book, but not so soon. From a writing perspective, it’s bold to take away your hero’s superpower in only the second book in the series. And it works. There’s ultimately a logical explanation for why the blood is telling Toby nothing (and no, it’s not Toby’s fault), so it never feels like a gimmick. I think that is what I like most about this series. The author utilizes techniques that could easily turn into a gimmick but she always keeps it from actually being a gimmick so it instead is utterly engaging and enthralling.
The fae world is also clearly much larger than we originally saw in the first book. The fae have a tech company so that they can rework modern technology to work in the fae knowes. On top of that, we also meet many more races of fae, as well as ways for the races we already know to exist and appear. For instance, Sylvester’s niece, January, has a daughter. But her daughter is in fact a tree fairy. Tree fairies are normally tied to a tree or a forest, so how is she in this tech building? January tied her branch to the computer server after her forest was destroyed, and she was able to keep living after adapting into the server and treating the server as a forest. Very cool idea, and it works beautifully in the story.
Even though I was basically able to predict whodunnit, I couldn’t figure out why or how, so the plot still satisfied me as I waited for Toby to figure all of that out.
One thing that kind of disappointed me in the book is that Toby meets a type of fae who can emit a magical scent that makes the person smelling it think they are massively attracted to him and thus sleep with him. They then become obsessed with this type of fairy, and the fae feeds off of the obsession. I was glad to see the book treat this as rape (basically drugging someone into sleeping with you) but I was also disappointed to see our heroine have to face off against an attempted rape. As I said in my review of the previous book, I get really tired of urban fantasy heroines being threatened constantly by rape. My hope is that this was a one-off type thing to introduce the concept of this type of fae rather than the new normal for the series.
Toby herself and the worldbuilding continue to be my two favorite aspects of the series. The plots are good, but I’d read almost anything plot-wise to visit Toby and her world again.
The essence of Toby and why I love her is evident in this quote:
Long dresses weren’t designed for walking in the woods. My mother could’ve made the walk without stumbling; she fits into the world that well, even insane. That’s what it means to be a pureblood. I stumble and fall, and I always get up and keep going. That’s what it means to be a changeling. (page 371)
Picking a quote to show why I love the worldbuilding so much is a bit harder, but here’s a particular favorite that really punched a visual of what this world is like home for me. In this passage, Toby is explaining that she and her mother are Daoine Sidhe and can see memories through blood:
My mother was so strong she could taste the death of plants. She could never stomach maple syrup; she said it tasted like trees screaming. (page 91)
As a born and raised Vermonter who grew up harvesting maple syrup, that line was a bit of a gut punch. An eloquent one.
Overall, readers of the first entry in the series will be pleased with this second outing. Toby continues to be a strong character set in a fascinating world. The mystery plot is another murder, but it is a series of murders and has a very different solving pattern and outcome than the first. Recommended to fans of the first book to continue on to the second as soon as they can.
4 out of 5 stars
Terric, nickname T, a half shifter half demon, and his girlfriend Jordyn, full vampire, have decided to move from New York City to Provincetown, Massachusetts. T has an opportunity to work as head of security at a nightclub and bar that caters to the supernatural, and he thinks the move will be good for he and Jordyn. Jordyn had a nightmarishly abusive past, and T has been helping her heal through a safe, consenting BDSM relationship. But his love for Jordyn is not one of a mate; it is one of a friend. He intuitively knows that his mate will be a man but he struggles to accept this, due to suffering he has endured in the demon realm. When Jordyn decides it is time for her to stand on her own two feet and move out, she also encourages T to confront himself and grow as well. But all T feels is set adrift.
Every November/December I open up to submissions for books to review in the upcoming year on my blog. When I saw this one in the submissions, I was excited. Not very much paranormal romance is submitted to me, and paranormal romance with a bisexual main character is nigh on impossible to find. Plus, I love Provincetown. This paranormal romance features a unique set of characters and a wide variety of sex scenes but its world building struggles some.
The strongest aspect of the book is that its main character Terric is so unique in paranormal romance. Terric actually describes himself perfectly:
I’m an anomaly. A fucking bisexual demon shifter. Not really all of any one thing…. I don’t really fit in most categories, you know. (page 33)
First, I love love love the fact that the hero of the book isn’t just bisexual, but he actually uses the term to describe himself as such. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is quite rare to have a character self-identify as bisexual and simultaneously have that character be one of the good guy leads. I really applaud the author for going there. Terric struggles with his sexuality but not for the reasons the reader might expect. Provincetown, for those who don’t know, is known for being a small town with a large accepting queer community. T’s community would accept him for who he is, but he struggles with accepting and loving himself. The reason given for this is that when he is summoned to the demon realm (as a half demon, he is subject to hell’s dominion), he is sometimes subject to punishment that consists of rape by other male demons (or half demons). The reason he has trouble imagining being mated with a man is due to this trauma. Bisexual men experience a higher rate of rape than straight or gay men (source), and I think it’s a good thing that the author works this into T’s past within the context of his supernatural world. The rape is not misrepresented as causing his bisexuality but rather as a trauma he must get over to fully embrace his sexuality for what it is. It’s not a storyline seen very often, and it’s handled well.
Similarly, the BDSM subplot in the first half of the book is also handled well. The BDSM is completely presented as something both partners have consented to with pre-agreed upon boundaries that are respected. It is also shown as something that is therapeutically used to help Jordyn overcome her past trauma. This is a use for BDSM that some readers may not know but it is clearly well-understood by the author and well presented in the book. Plus, the BDSM scenes are well-written and just the right level of steamy.
Unfortunately, the world that T and Jordyn live in is not as well fleshed-out as they are. In particular, the workings of the supernatural world are never fully explained and can be a bit confusing. For instance, vampires can apparently have children (as in, conceive and give birth to them, not as in turning humans into vampires), but it is never explained how. Also the logistics of mixing different supernatural races are unclear. For instance, there is one character who is 100% shifter, but his parents are both half vampire and half shifter. Even the character himself doesn’t know how that worked out to him being pure shifter. Some readers probably wouldn’t be bothered by the lack of details and world building regarding the supernatural and just how it works in this world, but others will be.
There are a few minor editing mistakes, the most startling of which is that the book on page 142 suddenly changes from indenting new paragraphs to having a line space between them (like how paragraphs appear on this blog). I have no preference for one over the other, but consistency throughout the book is preferred. There is also one plot point that bothered me. At one point a character is established as being tipsy. He then kisses someone and, freaked out about it, decides to leave and states that he can because he is “sober as a judge,” and the other character agrees he is fit to drive (page 152). Unless that kiss lasted an hour or two, there’s no way he went from tipsy to sober as a judge in the span of one kiss (unless something supernatural was going on that was not explained). Similarly, sometimes the book veers too far into telling rather than showing, particularly in the scenes that are not sex scenes. For instance, in one scene, this occurs:
He told Kevin a little bit about his own upbringing, just the basics. (page 144)
At this point, the reader does not know much about this character’s upbringing. Why not write out the dialogue in which the character tells Kevin about it, rather than telling the reader that the character tells Kevin? The sex scenes never veer into this telling rather than showing zone, and it would be nice if the plot points didn’t either.
There is also a chapter that is called the “epilogue,” which kind of bothered me since it is a direct continuance of the plot in the previous chapters. No significant time is skipped, nothing in the future is explained. It is basically the last chapter in the book. I am uncertain as to why it is thus called an epilogue. I was expecting it to update me on the future of these characters, not simply continue the story in a direct linear fashion from the last chapter.
Sex acts in the book include: anal sex (male on female), BDSM (male dom, female sub), and M/M kissing/touching. Rape is mentioned as an occurrence in the past but is not depicted. Those readers looking for more in-depth M/M scenes should keep their eye out for the next book in the series, as it appears that a M/M relationship will be building to greater intimacy in the next book.
Overall, this is a welcome addition to the paranormal romance genre, featuring a unique cast of characters, including a bisexual half-demon, half-shifter male hero. The book contains a wide variety of sex scenes, including M/F BDSM and M/M kissing/touching. Readers interested in in-depth world building may be disappointed by the lack of explanation of the supernatural world these characters inhabit. Those looking for a quick, steamy read will enjoy these characters and the development of them that goes on in-between their well-written sex scenes.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review