Fairest Vol 3: The Return of the Maharaja by Sean E. Williams
Art: Stephen Sadowski, Phil Jimenez, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green, Russ Braun, Meghan Hetrick, Christian Alamy, and Jose Marzan
Ugh. Okay, here’s the premise of the Fairest books: they are supposed to be stories about the various princesses in the greater Fables universe. Here’s been the problem: with the exception of the second volume, they have all actually been stories about the men in the lives of the princesses. And this volume was worst offender.
The princess in this story is Nalayani, who is not yet a princess. She’s a fable living in the Homelands in the India-region of it. Nalayani is the protectorate of her village after all the able-bodied men have gone on to fight against the Emperor and they don’t come back. When she hears there’s a new Maharaja in the area, she goes to seek his help in protection from the Dhole, wolf-like creatures, that have been killing and burning her village.
Nalayani is a great character. She loves her people, and she’s clearly the leader. The story about her travels and her friendship with the jackal Tabaqui was touching. I was saddened when he died.
That said, Nalayani doesn’t really grow or change in this story. Yes, she ends up leaving her home behind and not killing the Dhole, who turn out to be Bigby’s brothers; however, she only does so because her entire village has been destroyed, meaning she literally has nothing to go back to.
Instead, this story is about Prince Charming. The white guy. The other human-shaped fables are all people of color and two are women and one is a gay man, Nathoo. The other woman, Shikha, who’s part of Charming’s harem, dies because she had sex with Charming at the same time he was being cursed. Yes, Shikha was killed because she had sex. Thanks, Williams. And Nathoo becoming Maharaja at the end seems like a consolation prize.
Instead, this is Charming’s story. About how he became a ruler (again), and how he learned to really love someone: Nalayani. While Charming and Nalayani don’t get together in this story, she does leave with him, and it’s a good assumption that she’ll eventually fall for him.
Within the rules of the Fables universe, it makes sense that Charming’s still alive. However, his sacrifice and character growth in the stories had already reached a great peek and this doesn’t take the character to a new level. (Though is it now canon that Charming’s bisexual, or did he tell Nathoo about a romantic friendship?) This story could’ve easily been more about Nalayani, and if we wanted a old Fables character as romantic male lead who’s a person of color, it could’ve been about Sinbad or Mowgli. The latter making the most sense since he’s Indian and already mentioned in the story.
Travel into Nalayani’s world, buy Fairest Vol. 3: The Return of the Maharaja.