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Book Review: Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham et al. (Series, #1) (Graphic Novel)

Book Review: Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham et al. (Series, #1) (Graphic Novel)Summary:
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.

Review:
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.

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Once Upon a Time IX

Book Review: The Reflections of Queen Snow White by David C. Meredith

January 30, 2014 3 comments

Painting of a woman in a white dress next to a pond.Summary:
Snow White lived decades of her happy-ever-after, but when Charming dies she is sent reeling into a depression.  Not even their daughter, Raven’s, upcoming marriage can snap Snow White out of it.  When wandering the halls of the castle, desperately seeking to be alone, she re-enters her old step-mother’s quarters.  Now covered in dust, she discovers her stepmother’s magic mirror, which she never knew about before.  The discovery will have far-reaching consequences.

Review:
This is my first read of the 12 indie books I accepted for review here in 2014 (see the whole list).  I surprised myself a bit, reaching first for the fantasy, but I was in the perfect mood for a slightly pensive retelling of a fairy tale.  The book takes an interesting angle for retelling the story, jumping ahead to Snow White’s elderly years, but it unfortunately doesn’t reimagine Snow White herself quite enough.

The narrative choice of having an elderly Snow White discover her stepmother’s magic mirror that then forces her into introspection on herself and her life is a great idea that works well.  We already all know the end of the fairy tale, so flipping it on its head to start at the end addresses that fact head-on.  Now the question isn’t, will this fairy tale end the way all the other retellings do.  Instead, it looks on a psychological level at the impact of Snow White’s early years on her later ones.  It also is an interesting way to address end of life issues.  Snow White is elderly and stuck in a bit of a rut.  She’s uncertain how to go on without her husband of so many years.  These are relevant issues that don’t get addressed often enough in literature, and re-using the Snow White fairy tale to look at them works wonderfully.  It thus is a familiar story and setting with a different focus, which is a great tact to take for a fairy tale retelling.

Snow White herself, however, hasn’t been tweaked enough to make for an interesting heroine.  I admit, I was hoping for someone who either had found or would find her own strength.  The Snow White we see in Disney and other retellings really is a bit of a shrinking violet.  This Snow White stays that way.  Over and over she is the helpless girl who must be rescued by others.  She doesn’t flee the castle, someone else tells her, practically forces her to.  She is then saved first by the dwarves and then by Charming.  Later in her life, after leaving the official fairy tale, we find that she is a simpering clueless virgin on her wedding night who must be guided by Charming. Then even later she is heinously assaulted by some ladies of her court, and she again must be saved by someone else.  Even in the end of her life, she doesn’t pick herself up and continue on.  A magic mirror knocks some sense into her.  Because fairy tales often remove so much agency from the “good” women in them (only evil women are allowed agency), I prefer to see retellings give the women more agency.  Snow White could still have the character flaw of being a bit timid and eventually learn how to save herself.  It’s not an all-or-nothing scenario.  The way Snow White and her story is presented here reads a bit too traditionally medieval.  I want a retelling to take me new places with the character, not extend the same ones.

This issue alone would have led me to give the book 4 stars, but, unfortunately, the book is riddled with spelling and grammar errors.  I only marked the most egregious ones, and I still had 12 on my list.  Issues such as saying someone laid down in the floor, instead of on the floor (loc 2302), putting the apostrophe in the wrong place (“princes’ tongue” instead of “prince’s tongue” (loc 1315) ), and just flat-out using the wrong word (“followed suite” instead of “followed suit” (loc 1084) ) sorely damaged my enjoyment of the novel.  I don’t expect perfection from authors or editors, we are all human, but more than a few errors is something that truly negatively impacts the reading of the novel.

Overall, this retelling of Snow White takes the interesting angle of focusing on the end of her life. This allows the author to explore issues relevant to the elderly, such as losing long-term loved ones and coming to terms with the path your life has taken.  Although this plot gives the fairy tale a new focus and extended plot, Snow White herself has not been updated at all.  She is still the simpering violet who must be saved by all around her.  Some readers may be bothered by the number of errors in the spelling and grammar in the book.  Recommended to fans of traditional fairy tales with only a slight twist who won’t be bothered by a lack of editing for spelling and grammar.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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