- Down the Mysterly River
Waking up alone in a strange forest with no memory of how he got there, twelve-year-old Max does what any resourceful kid detective/BoyScout extraordinaire would do: gathers his supplies and takes stock of what he knows. Unfortunately, that isn’t a whole lot, but soon he meets Banderbrock, a talking badger, and gets his first clue: English-speaking animals must indicate that Max must be dreaming. The physical pain he experiences when he is attacked by a hunter with a menacing blue sword, however, leads Max to reevaluate this initial conclusion. After narrowly escaping the assault, Max and Banderbrock are joined by Walden the bear and McTavish the cat, both as loquacious and baffled about their existence as Max and Banderbrock. Pursued by more mysterious attackers, the group travels through the [End Page 117] forest, eventually making their way to the Wizard’s palace where Max learns what he has already begun to suspect: he and his companions are all major characters from book series, and their stories have now come to an end. Willingham, author of the acclaimed graphic-novel series Fables, brings a distinctly moralistic tone to this endeavor: in an apparent jab at censors and critics alike, the blue-sword warriors are stunted creators intent on making intriguing characters like Max bland and boring by literally cutting out his more interesting qualities. Fortunately, this sort of preaching occurs mainly in the closing chapters and is preceded by a rather rollicking adventure story that features effective villains, plenty of close calls, and a host of heroic antics. Admittedly, Max is already a little boring, but his furry friends are charming, and readers may find themselves wishing the creatures’ original tales were actually, well, real. A quest story with a side of meta-fiction, this is sure to please the thinking kid with a taste for danger.