Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom

by Bill Willingham, Lauren Beukes, Inaki Miranda and Barry Kitson


Rapunzel's, ahem, tangled past comes back to haunt her in the second volume of the Fairest series. She's missing two children, twins who were stolen away from her at their birth hundreds of years ago, and who she has never since been able to trace. This story begins in New York in 2002, where a community of Fables are living in semi-hiding. Rapunzel's hair grows four inches an hour, or more if she's in an emotional state, so she's not allowed out very often in case she attracts too much attention.

However, when some origami cranes come crashing through her window with a message about her children, she decides to go to Japan to track them down. She travels with Joel Crow, the man who cuts her hair, and the very roguish Jack Horner. But once in Tokyo they're pursued by a masked assassin, and whisked away by Tomoko, who uses her powers to hide a host of legendary people and creatures in plain sight. But Tokyo's Fables are on the brink of war with each other. And it all relates to events that took place hundreds of years ago in the Hidden Kingdom, where Rapunzel was once a courtier. Back then she took a lover, before political problems meant that things turned out very badly and she had to leave. But although she would forget the past, it hasn't forgotten her.

The story is very tightly packed with twists and turns, especially because Tomoko is a complicated character who can be manipulative, but isn't entirely unsympathetic. Very few characters are simply good or bad, and I found it took a couple of readings to properly understand what was going on with each of them. The story raises more questions than it answers. Her fraught relationship with her adoptive mother, the witch Totenkinder, and the full story about her children, are amongst these. It's as though The Hidden Kingdom is more of a set-up for a longer series than a self-contained story.

I enjoyed the way this graphic novel opens up the series by introducing Japanese characters. I'm not very familiar with oriental legends, so I didn't know whether these characters came from pre-existing myths (I suspect not), but they did introduce an unexpected element. Jack is funny, although it's in a fairly predictably self-interested way. But the character I most warmed to was Joel Crow, who is more in the dark about what's going on than most of the characters.

Inaki Miranda's art is clear and attractive. There are several relationships and there's even a birth scene, so the text leaves scope for some nudity, but when it comes up it's very tastefully drawn. This is quite a contrast to Adam Hughes' dreamy but suggestive pieces of cover art.

There's also a short tale at the end, Altered States, about a dryad and her difficulties getting dates, as narrated by Reynard the Fox. It's light, amusing, and a little bit gross-out. It contrasts with Rapunzel's story, which is quite a bit heavier.

2nd September 2013

Book Details

Year: 2013

Categories: Books

  Female Protagonist  

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Fairest: Wide Awake cover    

Fairest: Wide Awake by Bill Willingham and Phil Jimenez
When Ali Baba finds two Sleeping Beauties, he has no idea which one he should wake with a kiss. A graphic novel featuring the characters from Fables.

3 star rating

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