This volume was one of the most satisfying in a long while. There was a ton of backstory (mostly involving Snow White and Rose Red) and then an all-out smackdown between Mister Dark and Frau Totenkinder. The backstory is mostly stuff we've inferred from earlier volumes -- Rose Red and Snow White used to be the closest of sisters, and then Snow White went away, and Rose, consumed with jealousy, sets out to destroy Snow's life. So we find out that Rose really was an evil, manipulative bitch back in the day. All of this is brought out by way of forcing her to emerge from the deep depression she's been in since Boy Blue's death. She finally gets up, cleans herself up, and takes charge again -- and she's also seeking redemption.
Watching godlike powers go at each other is always interesting, since you can't take anything for granted. Even when they're defeated, maybe they're not. First there's the North Wind parlaying with Mister Dark, both of them posturing and arrogant as all hell, and both knowing that going at each other would possibly be like a mutual launch of nuclear missiles. Then comes the duel between Dark and Totenkinder. It seemed almost too easy and too quickly resolved, so of course it turns out that it wasn't.
On the one hand, I was kind of hoping that the Mister Dark storyline wouldn't be dragged out much longer. On the other, it would have been a little disappointing if he'd been defeated this quickly. I thought keeping him around as a gold statue to menace the Fables in some future volume, after another few story arcs have gone by, would have been a predictable route, but instead it looks like the war's not over by a long shot.
Now that Ozma is moving into the spotlight to replace Totenkinder, we'll have to see if she can match the old lady's bad-assery. Willingham also weaves a ton of other subplots into this volume, many of them threads that have been dangling for a long time -- the North Wind finding out about his zephyr grandson, Gepetto getting his hands on a new army of (very small) wooden soldiers, the birth of Beauty's baby (for which Totenkinder knitted such an "interesting" onesie).
One thing I didn't like was Snow White's speech to Miss Sprat. "Beautiful people can be mean, and nice people can be ugly, but ugly people can't be mean" is a very fairy-taleish moral, and so I'm not surprised that Snow would say something like that, but it's got unfortunate implications. We're supposed to see Miss Sprat as a bitter, spiteful sociopath, but I couldn't help feeling sorry for her, if that's what all the beautiful people around her have been thinking for all these centuries. Also, I don't believe the "betrayal" at the end -- I suspect someone in that exchange isn't who they appear to be...
All in all, the last couple of volumes are restoring my interest in this series. I thought it was going to flounder after the end of the Empire, and I'm still worried that the Mister Dark storyline could go on just as interminably, but since Willingham says he has no final ending in mind but would like to keep writing Fables
indefinitely, just like other long-running comic book series, it may remain fresh as long as he doesn't start phoning it in and it retains the advantage of being continuously written by a single creator. (What eventually killed my interest in most other comic books is that after a series has been through the hands of a dozen different writers, continuity goes out the window and the characters are practically new incarnations each time a new writer comes on board, even when the whole series isn't being explicitly "rebooted.")