Review by Frank Plowright
Away in the Lumberjanes summer camp, our five protagonists have already stumbled into more Fortean experiences over a few days than most people will in a lifetime. It’s all detailed in Beware the Kitten Holy, and Friendship to the Max continues in that vein, but it’s better. Much better. The good elements of the previous book remain in place, and there’s an increased level of creativity.
We still have the puzzles incorporated as story elements, the strong bond of friendship between our lead cast (although their characters remain one-note) and the fine cartooning of Brooke Allen. As an example of the improvements there’s Jen. In the previous book she was the preppy troop leader, and someone not previously known to buddies April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley. Here, her seemingly controlling character is given some depth as she progresses from “Why, I oughtta…” style spluttering to becoming one of the gang as they begin to discover what’s going on at the camp and the surrounding area.
Once they start revealing the bigger picture, one they had in mind all along, writers Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson improve considerably. Instead of readers having to accept that a succession of strange events just happen, a leap of faith required too often in the first volume, there’s some solidity and rationalisation to what’s taking place. Those revelations also indicate the mythology behind the series.
A new character named Diane is introduced, and her personality evolves as she moves through the chapters, eventually becoming the glue that holds the plot together, and introducing a bigger, mythological picture to Lumberjanes. Everything works to a very satisfactory conclusion with a few surprises along the way. The jokes are better as well, and it begins to fall into place why Lumberjanes has become so popular.
As with the previous book, the chapters are introduced via excerpts from The Lumberjanes Field Manual, and the alternate covers to the individual issues are found in the back, which also includes a fourteen page preview of Giant Days. The next volume is A Terrible Plan. Both this and its predecessor can also be found in the first volume of the hardcover Lumberjanes to the Max.