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If you're a graphic novel fan, you've probably heard of the Fables series -- it's all about the figures of fairy tales and old legend, who are now secret refugees in New York.

But "Peter & Max: A Fables Novel" isn't a graphic novel. It's an actual novel, focusing on some of the lesser-known people of the Fables community -- the musician Peter Piper and his wife Bo Peep. While it's not very easy to understand unless you've read the main series of graphic novels, it's a well-written, dark-edged fantasy that successfully brings the Fables into the written fantasy world. And yes, there is pickled pepper picking.

Peter Piper and his crippled wife Bo Peep have been living in the countryside, living a very simple, private existence. But one day, Rose Red brings Peter and Bo some unpleasant news -- his brother Max has been spotted.

Long ago Peter, his family and his jealous brother Max had been driven out of Squire Peep's estate by goblins, and had barely escaped through the haunted Black Forest. Peter found himself wandering as a beggar into the town of Hamelin, with only his magical flute Frost at his side, while his brother Max became a psychopathic monster who murdered anyone and anything who crossed his path. Even worse, Max came to Hamelin with a terrible magical flute that he turned against its children when he was cheated.

In the present day, a more embittered Peter sets out for Germany with Frost, intent on a final confrontation with his terrible, inhuman older brother. Unfortunately it's practically a suicide mission, since Frost isn't as strong as Max's horrendous flute Fire. But while Max is just as malevolent and greedy as ever, Peter has come up with a trick or two of his own.

"Peter and Max: A Fables Novel" tries to be a book that even nonfans of the Fables series can read and understand, and for the most part it is -- although some of the references to Bigby, Snow and Frau Totenkinder are rather hard to understand if you haven't read the comics. But for the most part, Bill Willingham makes this more of a standalone story that revolves only around the two Fable brothers -- one the fabled Peter Piper, and the other the infamous Pied Piper.

Willingham's writing flows along in a solid, detailed stream, with plenty of vaguely ye olde trappings and quick-moving dialogue. And while the story starts off sunnily enough, it doesn't take long for Willingham to paint it in darker hues -- Max cruelly murders and enslaves innocent people merely for crossing his path, while the orphaned Peter nearly starves in the Hamelin streets. Oh yes, and there are hints not only of gruesome murder and military slaughter, but near-cannibalism.

And Peter and Bo are definitely not the stuff of nursery-rhyme -- he's a pro musician and ex-thief, haunted by his terrible past, and she's a former assassin whose legs have been magically withered into rotted ruins. Max is the most ghastly character that Willingham could dream up -- a seemingly ordinary boy whose jealousy drives him to consider himself a superior form of life to the mere humans. And there are cameos by fan favorites like Bigby Wolf, Rose Red and Frau Totenkinder (both young and old).

"Peter and Max: A Fables Novel" is best appreciated by fans of the comic book series, but it's also a decent fantasy read for those unfamiliar with Willingham's work. And it has pickled peppers.
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on February 3, 2010
I have been a follower of the Fables comic series for quite some time now and I had been looking forward to seeing what Bill Willingham was capable of doing in the prose novel form. We got a taste of his prose at the end of his first trade paper back book Fables: Legends in Exile which tells the story of Snow White, Rose Red and even Bigby and how they escaped their Homelands in order to come to Earth.

Peter and Max is written in very much the same style as that deceptively short-looking story. It is very descriptive, and it does not reveal everything at once. Very slowly, through dialogue and flashback chapters you as the reader are given the whole story of what happened to the characters of Peter Piper, Max Piper (the Pied Piper) and Bo Peep: where they came from and how they became the people that you see them as now. You also get to see some of the regular Fables characters as well before they came to Fabletown.

This is also supposed to be a standalone book. The idea is that you do not have to read the rest of the comics series in order to understand what is going on. Willingham actually provides a possible perspective on the nature of Fables and Earth are that even I, as a reader of the series, found to be different and really very interesting. He starts it off from that point and then slowly introduces you to the characters and the world(s) they live or lived in.

Just like in his other works, Willingham's tone manages to combine the grit of old "private-eye books" with the sometimes equally dark "just-so" voice of fairytales. What I especially liked was the perspective of Max, Peter's older brother and watching his internal psychological development into the Pied Piper. I also like how Willingham manages to take some of the most minor-seeming Fables such as Peter Piper (with his pickle that he picked) and Little Bo Peep and expanded them into fully well-rounded, three-dimensional and powerful characters. Because there is only those small tales about them, it leaves a whole lot of room to write about the rest of their lives before and after the nursery rhymes and folktales that they feature in.

However, the theme I really appreciated in Peter and Max was that of story-telling. It is inherent throughout almost every part of the narrative that happens. Peter and Max are both musicians. Both of them play the magical flutes of Frost and Fire respectively. Their music, just as the stories of their lives run counterpoint to each other until, eventually, they meet and combine into a very powerful conflicting duet ... and resolution. The exchange between them makes you consider the importance of words and names, thievery and agility of mind as creativity, the power of song in creating stories, and worlds, and lives: how they can change them for the worse or the better.

But the conflict between Frost and Fire is ultimately about storytelling, and in real life and even with magic, a happy ending is often hard-earned, and completely unexpected.
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on November 17, 2009
I am a huge fan of the Fables graphic novel series. When I first heard about this novel, I was very excited, and I was not disappointed. It was an easy read, but still quite suspenseful until the very end. It tied into the graphic novel series, but I feel that you could read it without having read the graphic novels before.
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on December 5, 2009
I love the Fables series, and this book is a fantastic addition to the story. I read it in 3 nights, couldn't put it down. Good plot twists, and good info on some of the Fables characthers backgrounds as well. If you like the Fables comics you will like this book.
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on November 3, 2009
I order it simpply because it's from Bill WIlligham and it's related to the Fables universe. I was thinking it was a new graphic novel. Well it's not! It has a few illustrations but is a full word-page novel, like any other novels in your library. I will not send it back because I feel shy for not having read more the description of this book, but just be warned: This is not a grap'ic novel, just a plain old standard novel!! I'm sure the story must be good too.
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