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on 25 February 2014
Snow White, the Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, and her wayward sister Rose Red venture out of the city and into the country to visit the Farm. This is where all of the Fable creatures who don’t look humanoid – the various talking animals, three giants and a dragon – are kept and whose presence is masked through enchantments. However this means they’re unable to leave the land without being seen by the mundys (slang for humans – as in “mundane”, ie. “normal”). This limiting of their freedom for hundreds of years has led to widespread discontent among as the Farm Fables as Snow and Rose are about to find out – the animals are revolting!
Like the first volume which was a murder mystery, the second volume of Fables is a self-contained five-issue story arc, though less generic and unfortunately less interesting. It’s a bit like a horror mystery as Snow and Rose find out the idyllic land harbours poisonous intentions that boils over into murderous actions kind of like in The Wicker Man (NOT the Nic Cage version which was a comedy. “HOW’D IT GET BURRRRNNNNEDD?!?!??!”).
Bill Willingham references well-known literary works like Lord of the Flies and of course Orwell’s Animal Farm though they only bear a superficial resemblance to this book as Willingham’s story doesn’t explore the same themes or in quite the same level of depth and thoughtfulness. Fables remains a straightforward series.
It’s enjoyable to see well known characters playing against type like the militant Goldilocks as she leads a communist-esque revolution as the female Che Guevara and Snow fighting Shere Khan from Kipling’s Jungle Book is exceedingly good (hehe!). And Willingham continues to explore the concept of the Fables themselves by establishing that they can live hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years yet retain youthful appearances, and how the more popular Fables can’t die no matter what injuries they sustain due to their popularity with the mundys. The more who believe in you, the more powerful you are – it’s not an original idea that I remember seeing for the first time in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books years ago.
Except the second book still feels like setup. I get that this is a complex world so Willingham needs more time to lay the groundwork of who the Fables are and how they live in our world, but the whole faux-revolution thing just didn’t work for me. Mostly because we know the real enemy of the series is the mysterious Adversary and not the talking pigs/Goldilocks, so they were never going to succeed thus defusing the tension of the story, but also because a chase plot isn’t that interesting. They run, they fight, they run some more, yeah ok. And the ending itself felt anticlimactic and drawn-out.
Snow and Rose are fairly interesting characters but shouldn’t really have books centred around them as they’re just not compelling enough. Snow is a goody-two-shoes and Rose is predictably rebellious – the stereotypical good sister/bad sister combo we’ve seen a million times before. Here, the more engaging characters like Bigby, Bluebeard and Jack were supporting players at best while Snow ran around a forest. The others, like the talking animals, are barely characters at all – they’re just interactive background really.
Animal Farm isn’t a terrible book and hasn’t put me off the series but it’s not terribly compelling either. It sets out some important information, it’s got some great art, and if you like Snow then you’ll enjoy this. But it’s also pretty dull quite often and predictable too. It’s ok, not great.