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Review: “The Book Of Apex Volume IV,” Part 5

This post doubles as one of the “stops” on the Book Of Apex Blog Tour organized by the Little Red Reviewer, where we all read and discuss The Book Of Apex: Volume IV Of Apex Magazine (*****). This anthology collects all the stories published in Apex Magazine issues #30-#44, the first fifteen issues since Lynne M. Thomas took over as editor for the magazine. In my first post, I looked at some of my favorites from the anthology. This time, I’ll look at those that didn’t make the cut. Not that they’re bad, some of them are great, they just didn’t “do it” for me like those others did. The great thing about Apex Magazine is that their stories are all available online, so if you are intrigued by a story you can just click the title and it will link you to that story on their website! I’d be interested to hear your opinions as well, so feel free to leave a comment telling what you thought of a particular story…..

  • Splinter, by Shira Lipkin. (***)
    A group of friends, all with magical powers, step into another world. I’m not sure why, but this story just didn’t hit the mark for me. It wasn’t bad, I just wasn’t all that impacted by it. Maybe you’ll fare better than I did. CONTENT: Strong language. No sexual content, no violence, although the emotional impact of their trip can be a little disturbing.
  • Erzulie Dantor, by Tim Susman. (***)
    In the wake of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti darkness holds sway over the land, both in the land surrounding Bas-Le-Fond and in the hearts of some of it’s inhabitants. But the voodoo gods can be fickle, especially to those who merely pay them lip service…. I wasn’t a fan here. Perhaps it’s my antipathy towards voodoo, or perhaps I was simply in the mood for a more uplifting tale. Either way, despite my lack of investment in this tale it was well-crafted. Perhaps you’ll find it more appealing than I did. CONTENT: Some strong and disturbing violence. Mild sexual innuendo. Strong voodoo occult content. No profanity.
  • Labyrinth, by Mari Ness. (****)
    Below the temple, there is a labyrinth. In it, trained Dancers wait for the condemned. If the condemned can beat the Dancers, they are innocent and go free. If not, their guilt is proven and their death just. To be a Dancer is a great honor, but it also comes with a terrible potential for loss…. This story was very well crafted, but very bleak. Perhaps another day I would have received it better, I don’t know. At any rate, this one disturbed me. CONTENT: Strong violence. Mild sexual innuendo. No profanity.
  • Blood From Stone, by Alethea Kontis. (****)
    This tale was excellently executed. Ms. Kontis takes the real historical character who was the alleged basis for the fabled Bluebeard, Baron Gilles de Rais, and seeks to explain just what turned him into that legendary monster. The story was well-told, very evocative and frankly disturbing–how could it not be, given the subject matter? My one complaint is that Lord Death, once he appears, speaks with a modern idiom that was jarring in the medieval setting. CONTENT: Strong, disturbing violence. Sexual innuendo. No profanity. Strong occult content.
  • Trixie And The Pandas Of Dread, by Eugie Foster. (*****)
    This one would have made my best-of list, hands down, had I managed to finish the anthology before the time came to post it. Oh well….In the world Ms. Foster presents here, there are far more gods than our humble sphere has ever conceived of. There’s apparently a Karmic Council that can elevate someone to godhood if they deem you worthy. Anyway, Trixie is the goddess you’ve always wished existed–she exists purely to smite the @$$holes of the world. That guy posting racist and fascist comments on your favorite YouTube video? She just pulled out his heart. That drunken idiot at the back of the theater yelling spoilers while you try and enjoy the film? His spleen just spontaneously ruptured. (I can only assume he went to Shepherd Book’s “special Hell….”) The only problem is that Trixie is running solely on duty. It’s been a long time since she’s felt any sort of the righteous anger that keeps her running, and she’s getting tired. And her totem Pandas that carry her sedan have a severe case of flatulence due to their all-bamboo diet…. CONTENT: This story is pretty offensive on every front, but I have to confess that I loved it anyway. R-rated language. Semi-explicit sexual content. Occasionally-gruesome (but always deserved!) violence.
  • The Performance Artist, by Lettie Prell. (****)
    Anna Pashkin Bearfoot is a performance artist. Her latest work will be the most controversial of all….Not gonna lie, this story was fairly disturbing. The prose was excellent though, and it was a good story. The ending had a particularly biting commentary on our culture…. CONTENT: Some sexual content, including implied rape and molestation in a character’s past. No overt violence, but some fairly disturbing content I can’t place in any other category. No profanity.

This is the fifth and final post in a series of reviews of individual stories from this anthology. The other posts can be found as follows:
Part One (My personal favorites….)
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
-Part Five
Apocrypha (The reprinted stories from the relevant issues, not included in the anthology)

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Review: Bill Willingham’s “Fables,” Set I

Title: Fables
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Various (See individual books on Goodreads for details)
Average Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: DC Comics, 2002-2005

What if all the characters from your beloved fairy tales lived here in our world, in New York City? Welcome to the world of Bill Willingham’s award-winning Vertigo series Fables. This review is for the first five collected volumes, or issues #1-33. (I decided against reviewing each individual volume on here due to spoilers and generally not having enough to say to justify a full-out write up. On the other hand, Willingham doesn’t play nicely with status quo, so my secondary plan to just blanket review the whole series fell through as well. Instead, I’m reviewing what I consider to be longer, mostly-contained story arcs–from one earthshaking change to the next. You can find links to my short reviews of the individual volumes below.)

The premise is simple. Centuries ago* all of the Fables were driven from their lands by The Adversary, winding up in our world. They congregated in the New World, setting up their own community among us where they have been living ever since in relative peace. As a founding principle of their community, all sins commited in the Homeland are forgiven–you start out in Fabletown with a clean slate. No one embodies this fact more than Bigby (Big Bad) Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown and one of the main protagonists of the series. There are others, of course–this is an ensemble book, and you will get stories featuring everyone from Snow White to Flycatcher and everyone in between. Willingham has created something truly awesome here, taking characters we all know, as well as less familiar ones like Bluebeard, and putting a different spin on them. I’ll avoid spoilers, for the most part here. Some memorable characters we are introduced to here include:

-Bigby “Big Bad” Wolf: Sheriff of Fabletown and a werewolf (or more accurately a werehuman, as a wolf is his original form.) In the Homelands he was a feared beast before the Adversary came, at which point he became a severe thorn in the enemy’s side.
-Snow White: Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, first ex-wife of Prince Charming. King Cole, the Mayor, handles the ceremony and gladhanding; Snow handles the dirty business of keeping things running.
-Prince Charming: A serial womanizer and ex-husband of a number of Fable princesses. He has been spending most of his time in Europe, mooching off of the royalty there, but seems to have outstayed his welcome….
-Jack: Rose Red’s feckless boyfriend, always up to one get-rich-quick scheme or another. Former owner of some magic beans, among other claims to fame.
-Bluebeard: The richest man in Fabletown. In the Homelands he had a habit of killing his wives on their wedding night. He can’t be charged for this given the General Amnesty that holds the Fables community together, but everyone can’t help but wonder if he has returned to old habits.
Other characters drop in and out, usually becoming important in later volumes. Beauty and the Beast make an appearance, still together although when Belle gets annoyed with him Beast’s curse will begin to reappear. Little Boy Blue shows up as Snow’s assistant, seemingly young but with a deep-seated tragedy in his past haunting him. Cinderella would seem to be nothing more than a local shop owner, but is in reality one of Fabletown’s most experienced black operatives. Assorted other fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters make up the supporting cast, from goblins to the Three Little Pigs. The tales in these first five volumes run the gamut, from a murder mystery to an attempted revolution, from an invasion to dealing with a Mundy who thinks he’s discovered their secret–the Fables are all vampires! I promise, you’ll have fun with this series. You can see the reviews for the individual collections below, but be forewarned that all but the first will have spoilers for the previous volumes….

Volume I: Fables In Exile (*****)
Volume II: Animal Farm (****)
Volume III: Storybook Love (*****)
Volume IV: March Of The Wooden Soldiers (*****)
Volume V: The Mean Seasons (****)

Content: This is a series from DC’s Vertigo line, intended for adults. Its firmly rated R, though maybe not so much as others from that house such as Preacher or anything written by Alan Moore. R-rated language, not on the level of a Tarantino flick, but assorted uses of the “F-bomb.” There’s not infrequent violence, and sometimes it can be a bit gory or disturbing. Sexual content also sometimes shows up, with occasional nudity. Some magic, but given the fairy tale setting I wouldn’t really describe it as “occult.”

*It would seem that the Fables are functionally immortal, though they can be killed.

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