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Book Review

Book Cover

Peter & Max
A Fables Novel (Hardback)


Author: Bill Willingham
Titan Books
RRP: £16.99, US $22.99
ISBN: 978 1 84856 464 0
Available 27 November 2009

When Rose Red seeks out Peter Piper things were never going to be the same. Peter and his wife Bo Peep had led a solitary existence since their catastrophic confrontation with Peter’s twisted brother Max. Now Max has been found and Peter must go and confront his brother for the last time...

Peter & Max is a new novel by Bill Willingham based in his Fables world. Originally the stories were told in comic book form, starting in 2002, but now he has turned his hand to a full prose novel.

I used to collect comics, tens of thousands of them at my collecting height, but I’m sad to say I never read Fables, if the comics were half as good as the book I am poorer for missing this experience.

The basic premise of the book is that all the characters from fairy stories are real people from other world, alternative realities if you like, whose realms had been invaded. They had fled across worlds seeking a new home and finding it in New York. Collectively they called themselves Fables when they realised that the resonance of their lives had seen such that part of their reality had bled into the human world. Although their stories had been warped much of what humans told had a germ of truth. The fables that could pass as human lived in the city; the more esoteric of them lived on a protected rural farm.

The book tells the story of two brothers, Peter and Max, both accomplished musicians who led a vagabond existence with their family. Prior to the invasion of their realm by the empire, normal sibling rivalries prevailed, but the onslaught of the invading armies creates a situation where those sibling rivalries are transformed into murderous intent.

Now I’ve read a lot of stories where the author has taken the premise that the creations of fairy tales were real and to be honest I’ve not been generally that impressed. Most authors take this idea and just create more fairy stories. The trick that Willingham has pulled off, and pulled off extraordinarily well, is to turn these characters into believable people.

Yes the books have magic in them, but this is almost secondary. The main focus of the stories is on the people involved. This actually makes it a lot more fun to encounter the Big Bad Wolf, or the Piper of Hamlin because when we revisit these events they have the visceral weight of a human story attached to them.

Most of the book is told in flashback. When Peter journeys to Hamlin to confront his brother the reader has no idea what the fight is about, but through the flashbacks we see not only the decline in Max and Peters relationship but Max’s consumption by evil - powerful stuff.

You don’t need to have read the comics to enjoy the book, like I said they completely passed me by, but I shall be seeking them out now. What we have here is a well written account of how two brothers could get to the point of wanting to kill each other. Don’t be put off by the magical undertones of the book; the author is able to convince that this is a story about real people not just ciphers.


Charles Packer

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