Thursday, 29 November 2012

Book #33

Fables: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham

In the Fables' world, there isn't a lot of happily-ever-after to go around. As refugees from the lands of make-believe, the Fables have been driven from their storybook realms and forced to blend in with out gritty, mundane reality. But that doesn't mean they don't have any room for romance—or the pain, betrayal and jealous rage that goes along with it. In fact, love may be blooming between two of the most hard-bitten, no-nonsense Fables around. But are they destined for happiness— or a quick and untimely death?

This may be my favourite Fables chapter yet. It was thicker and more colourful than its predecessors, and definitely kept me a bit more engaged. There were a good few sub-stories going on throughout this one, and I really enjoyed them. Jack besting Satan in a poker game, the men of Lilliput all trying to chat up Thumbelina, Sleeping Beauty still dropping into a deep slumber as soon as her finger is pricked on anything at all, and Goldilocks being a gun-toting feminist were all just little yarns that made the plot so much more exciting than the previous volumes. This is what I was looking for: insight into the fairy-tale lives of the Fables, not how they behave as humans, which is all I have been subjected to so far.

All of the small twists in the plot contributed a bit more to character background, which was something I was clamouring after in the previous volumes. We find out more about what drives the characters, what makes them tick, and why they behave in the ways they do. I particularly enjoyed the Wolf's story behind his love for Snow White. Very romantic, if a bit bizarre.

The first two installments hinted heavily at the Fables going back to the Homelands to fight and reclaim them as their own. This volume made no mention of this at all, which was disappointing, as surely this is the ultimate aim of the series? It is definitely something I would like to see, so the romantic focus of this one was slightly baffling.

I do feel Willingham points out the obvious quite frequently. He doesn't seem to trust his reader to understand what he's getting at, so instead gives his characters some awfully pointed dialogue to ensure we know exactly who is untrustworthy, clever, or strange. We aren't allowed to work it out on our own without a glaringly obvious conversation being thrown in our faces. It's almost humiliating, but as the book doesn't take too much time to get through, it doesn't matter a great deal.

Once again I am judging on plot and character devices, rather than the illustrations themselves. I have already explained in my reviews of volume one and two that I am a total comic book novice, and a dunce when it comes to illustration. 

Fables now seems to me like a fun story; something to escape with and not take too seriously. It isn't really much more than that; although I really enjoy whizzing through the colourful pages, it will never be something that engages my mind to an epic degree, but I would be more than happy to have a look at the next episode.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Book #32

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified dinery server on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation. The narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each others echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

I opened this book knowing I was going to love it. I just knew in my heart of hearts it was going to be nothing but wonderful because all I had heard were stunning adulations over Mitchell's work. Of course I was expecting to join this mob of applauding fans with praise-filled reviews and joyous cheer of my own. Unfortunately Mitchell very quickly burst this little bubble for me, brought me back to the ground with a bump, and taught me an almighty lesson I should've learned from Fifty Shades of Grey: just because everyone else likes it doesn't mean you will too.

The idea here is that Mitchell weaves six different short stories into each other, becoming the master of space and time, and interlinking each one to teach us lessons in reincarnation, the butterfly effect, and all sorts of nonsense like that. The premise is wonderful, very exciting, and somewhat new to me. The problem is that each of the six stories are incredibly weak and mediocre.

After we go through all six charades (I could go into detail, but as soon as this book removes itself from the forefront of my mind, the better), we are treated to them all again in reverse order. This is because David Mitchell is most likely a misanthropic bastard and would like us all to suffer his mundane characters all over again. I had hoped a good number of them would meet an untimely and grotesque demise, but I was disappointed. They were drab. I didn't care for any of them; anything that troubled them or possibly contributed to their misery didn't coax one tiny little feeling inside me. I cared not. Sonmi was the only one I was remotely interested in, and this faded away quickly into her second narrative. Mitchell finishes off the novel with an incredibly trite comment about us all being mere drops in the ocean of life, or something as equally fluffy and pretentious which somehow offended my intellect.

Mitchell's attempt to compose the novel in six different writing styles worked to an extent, and certainly interested me at the outset. I liked the differing ways in which voices were coming across, whether it was diary, letter, interview, or otherwise. Going through this again, backwards and unexpectedly, however, reminded me of an awful rollercoaster ride you are desperate to disembark.

I originally felt stupid for not understanding the hype behind this novel. It is certainly imaginative, challenging, and quite fresh. However, the stories were awful, the characters didn't link very well (a casual mention of something in the previous ordeal section just didn't seem sufficient), and by the time we were on our reverse journey through time and space, I had forgotten everything that had happened the first time around! All the nuances, sub-characters and plot twists meant nothing to me because it had (very dully) happened pages and pages ago. This quite obviously gets worse as you near the end of the novel; the more you delve into the novel, the more unimpressed you become.

This work of Mitchell's is certainly trendy and certainly clever, and I imagine that's the kind of thing people may go for. However, what I tend to go for in a book is something worthwhile and compelling and this simply did not fit the criteria. It was form over substance, and it just didn't work for me.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Book #31

Fables: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham
Ever since they were driven from their homelands by the Adversary, the non-human Fables have been living on the Farm—a vast property in upstate New York that keeps them hidden from the prying eyes of the mundane world. But now, after hundreds of years of isolation, the Farm is seething with revolution, fanned by the inflammatory rhetoric of Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs. And when Snow White and her sister Rose Red stumble upon their plan to liberate the Homelands, the commissars of the Farm are ready to silence them—by any means necessary.

Following on from my review of Legends in Exile earlier today, I have finished the second installment which focuses on the lives of the fabled characters who cannot pass as human, and live in New York like the others. They are confined to a farm on the outskirts of the city and are urged never to leave it lest they draw attention to the existence of the Fables. Needless to say, confinement does not go down well, and a riot ensues.

As the title suggests, the story has an incredibly Orwellian ring to it, with the oppressed 'animals' (or giants, dragons, and a plethora of queer little creatures I couldn't quite identify) rebelling against their human counterparts in the city.

I'm not sure whether I enjoyed this one more than its predecessor. There was certainly much more gore than in the first volume, which is always a plus where I'm concerned. However, I felt as though the story was taking a different turn to how the first installment implied things would be. There was no hint that there were ever problems at the farm, and it was to my understanding that the next part of the story would delve even deeper into character history, the upheaval of the homelands, and most importantly reveal the identity of the adversary. Willingham instead turned the Fable folks against one another, allowed them to execute one another, and created an uneasy tone. Where the Fables should be fighting against the adversary, they were now fighting against one another. I didn't like it.

The graphics I found to be incredible again, although I realise I am a total novice in this genre. The gore was delicious, and I loved scrutinising the panels and examining some of the non-human Fables; some of them looked so odd it was almost frightening.

Although I enjoyed this, and I will be looking to pick up another graphic novel in future, there was something missing for me and I think it was character history and/or character development. No relationships were developed, some of the characters I was interested in from the previous volume didn't appear or weren't looked at in depth, and I wanted to hear more history of the non-human Fables. Willingham almost treated them the same as the human Fables did, and left them out entirely which was disappointing.

Despite the above, I am looking forward to the next installment, if I can get my hands on it. I am hungry to hear of what happens to the Fables, and I want to see their attempts at overcoming the adversary. I would definitely recommend this to graphic novel beginners, as I really appreciated the art, although I think I my love of literature has made me too plot-critical.

Book #30

Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham
When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown. But when Snow White's party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Fabletown's sheriff, a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf (Bigby Wolf), to determine if the killer is Bluebeard, Rose's ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.

I'm a beginner in the graphic novel arena, and was always slightly ashamed of being so. Fables was given to me by someone who thought (based on my literary loves) I would enjoy it; and I really did. As it was my first foray into the illustrated world, I have nothing to compare it to, nor can I pretend to be well-versed in what a graphic novel is supposed to look or feel like. I have never appreciated illustrations in novels, preferring to concentrate on nuances in the literature. I was blown away, however, by the severe detail involved in every panel, not to mention the way the story carried itself through these brightly coloured pages.

Fairy tale folks interest me greatly, and the premise of this story is very attractive to me. The very idea of these people of ancient folklore living, breathing and strolling around New York is just absolutely delicious. I realise this is a series, and more will develop as I delve into the rest of them, but Legends in Exile turned into a bit of a stale murder mystery.

The characters are brilliant as we already know a little of them from hearing widely repeated fairy tales throughout our lives. Willingham gives them all more of an edge, however, almost humanising them, and showing us their issues and flaws, rather than focusing on their beauty or riches as the age-old fables do.

I like to learn about life subsequent to the 'happily ever after's, and it seems to be filled with divorce, financial scams, and misery. Who would've thought their lives would be filled with such hardship after their incredibly happy endings only centuries before?

The second book in the series is now waiting for me. I'm hoping the plot will progress into something more satisfying than this. I would definitely recommend graphic novel beginners to pick this up; it's fact paced and quite exciting, and pages seeped in colour makes a nice change to black print on white.