Review by Frank Plowright
As the title suggests, the Fables from Arabian Nights come calling on Fabletown, led by Sinbad, and invited by Mowgli during his brief visit in Homelands. Prince Charming is discovering that the greed and ambition that led him to desire the position of mayor aren’t qualities of much practical use in the job. Other members of the new administrative regime are adjusting a little more smoothly to their tasks.
It’s interesting to note that the three major characters with which Bill Willingham introduced Fables are either gone or, in the case of Snow White, marginalised. Yet such is the compelling complexity of his plotting and his deft characterisation that the cast utilised here are equally engaging, with the caveat that Beauty remains rather a cipher. Little Boy Blue is edging back into the narrative, and Frau Totenkinder, whose name translates from the German as ‘dead children’, has become increasingly prominent over the past few books.
She’s Willingham’s version of the wicked witch from so many tales, an immensely powerful person with a wealth of spells at her disposal who nonetheless chooses to live as an old woman, seemingly spending her days knitting in her rocking chair. Willingham has been careful to define the limitation of her power, and that of other witches, noting that larger spells require time and resources, thus avoiding the cop-out of a powerful witch waving her hand to dispense with a threat.
It’s Frau Totenkinder who discovers the visiting Arabian Fables are accompanied by a Djinn, a creation she describes as being 97% pure magic, and so a being that awes even her. Amid the diplomacy reviving what had seemed to be a discarded cast member, Beast and Frau Totenkinder have to figure out how to deal with such a threat. As ever, Mark Buckingham’s art is superb.
The somewhat less gifted Jim Fern illustrates the quirky ‘Tale of Rodney and June’, which is both a glimpse at the workings of the Adversary and a decidedly odd love story. It rounds off another satisfying book, and next is Wolves.
The Arabian content is also to be found on oversize glossy stock in Fables Deluxe Edition Book Five, with the Fern content consigned to Book Six. The content is also packaged with the next five slimmer paperbacks as the massive paperback Fables Compendium Two.