Saturday, May 08, 2010

Feeling the Love

Still in the mini series mode, and fresh in the mind, Chris Roberson's and Shawn McManus's Cinderella From Fabletown with Love gets the one day early review today. I've been commenting on this series on The List postings as it came out, so it shouldn't be any surprise that I think it's well worth the $18 (plus tax), and then some. It's also in trade form now.

Set in a time before the Dark Man's arrival at Fabletown, the brief version of the story is that Fabletown spy Cinderella is sent by Sheriff Beast to Dubai to learn who's selling large quantities of magical items to wealthy Mundy (that'd be you and me, the mundane) buyers. On the same mission for the Arabian Fables is Aladdin, leading to their pooling of his resources and her resourcefulness. The mission takes them from Dubai to the North Atlantic and into a little known Fable realm called Ultima Thule (Latin for Farthest North). Cindy and Aladdin defeat the magic wielder behind the flooding of magical goods into the Mundy world and engage in some well deserved R&R.

That's the brief, but it's only the frame. The fun of the story is often in the interplay between Cinderella and Aladdin. Her Western culture clashes with his Arabian culture, though he's not a Muslim fundamentalist nor she a secular purist. They go from outright hostility (no doubt in part due to his attempt to kill her on their first meeting) to grudging respect and eventual affection. Along the way the role of Islam and women is argued, including three former harem slaves who make the point that women in the west face challenges that men do not, too. This is no treatise on women's rights, but the insightful use of real world topics in a story that would logically present conflicts between cultures is a welcome sign of intelligence. The spying between friends is a lot of fun, too.

Then there's the method of telling the story. Each issue (except the first and the last) begins with Cinderella having a memory of a prior spy adventure that ties into what's happening in the current story. These are vignettes that flesh out how long she's been working as a spy and how her character has developed over the centuries. The first issue doesn't do that because it starts with her wrapping up a spying engagement immediately preceeding the main story, while the last flashes to her well known origin with Prince Charming, tying into the villain's relation to that story. The memories take the reader to the Napoleonic Wars, the US Civil War, WW II, and the Cold War and are succinct. They provide the stage for her evolving relationship with Aladdin and with the villain of the piece.

Because she isn't wealthy like the Arabian Fables, Cinderella has to make barter deals with Frau Totenkinder (the witch of the Hansel & Gretel story) for magical items she'll need to use in her mission. The tense relationship between the two of them is a fascinating duel with so many parries and thrusts you can almost see the allegorical swords a-swinging. Machinations, unlike wealth, are not in short supply in Fabletown.

An added bonus is the story of Crispin Cordwainer, the shoemaker of The Elves and the Shoemaker fame. He works for Cinderella at her shoe store, Glass Slipper Shoes. The store is her cover for being able to gad about the world, and Cordwainer, who's unaware of her function as a spy, runs the store. He's tired of just selling the shoes she designs and, while she's off on this mission, reaches a deal with the elves for new designs and magical capabilities. The latter is initially a success, but the fact that neither he nor the buyers know how to turn off the magical functions blows up in his face. It's a problem Cinderella has to fix at the end of her mission and leads to penury for Cordwainer.

The last thing I'll point out about the series is the wonderful cover art by Chrissie Zullo. There's a stained glass art quality to the work, with heavy lines that bring a two dimensional appearance, but that style slowly lightens as the story progresses so that by the end it's much more fluid, entirely in keeping with developments in the story.

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