I've been a fan of Fables for a long time--I love the writing, the art, the characters and the story. I'd been a little sad to see the series fall in quality over the last few storylines, and was really looking forward to this story, as it seemed to promise a return to the glory days--an epic plotline on par with "Homelands" or "March of the Wooden Soldiers."
I was, unfortunately, disappointed.
The problem is, I think, in the plotting. I won't give much away, but suffice it to say Flycatcher, the innocent, pure janitor who only recently remembered the fate of his family under the Adversary, goes on an epic journey to redeem himself and their memory. How what he ends up doing really connects with them isn't made clear, which is a fault, but much bigger is the general lack of real conflict or character development. There's only one point, right at the end of the story, where the reader really fears for the hero's survival. I mean, given the artificial nature of narrative, the reader understands implicitly that yes, the hero probably survives at least until the climax of the story, but each tribulation that Flycatcher faces is easily overcome. They should have spent more space showing the struggles rather than summarizing their difficulty, and they should have made them more difficult overall.
It just seems as if everything is laid at the hero's feet. Yes, this is occasionally how things work out in real life (presidencies, college acceptances, cush corporate positions), but it doesn't make for very compelling reading. As a result, not only is the story dramatically flat, but the main character doesn't seem to develop all that much. Flycatcher at the end is pretty much the same Flycatcher we've loved since the beginning of the series--and after all this, he shouldn't be.
Interspersed in Flycatcher's main story are snippets of Fabletown preparing for war with the Adversary. This was interesting, but I feel it detracted from Flycatcher's journey--if he doesn't get a break from his struggles, why do we? And by the end, I didn't feel I'd read a complete story--the dramatic payoff of the Flycatcher story was too light, and the war promised more compelling drama.
Technically, the story leaves something to be desired. The writing is riddled with overly wordy, stilted, unrealistic dialogue, with characters monologuing about what they're doing or planning instead of getting on and doing it. The series has always had this problem to a certain extent, and even the best of writers do it every once in a while, but it really shows here. And though I'm a tremendous fan of certain aspects of Buckingham's art, it's been getting a little sloppy of late, and seems particularly rushed in certain parts. On the other hand, he still manages to deliver some stunning vistas and clever cuts. The best art of the book is in the guest artist's issue, however.
I struggled to decide whether to rate this two or three stars; in the end, my affection for the series won over my criticisms. But I hope they pick up the ball for the coming war and ramp up the drama. Our heroes need true obstacles, not wave after wave of easily-dispersed faux-foes. Heaven forbid, it might be useful to kill a few of them off, like they did in the early days of the series. This book hasn't soured me on Fables, but I will be looking to the next plotlines with a more critical eye. I've seen how good they can be; I expect to see that quality again.