On the whole, "The Return of the Maharaja" in "Fairest" has been a lot of fun, with Sean E. Williams and Stephen Sadowski continuing the return of Prince Charming in an Indian-influenced world of Fables. "Fairest" #18 serves as both backstory and transition for Prince Charming and Nalayani, though, and as such it's just not as riveting as what readers have seen up until now.
Williams' plot has two important functions in "Fairest" #18: to present the backstory on how Prince Charming ended up as the Maharaja after his apparent death in "Fables" #75, and to continue building the relationship between him and Nalayani. They're both moments that clearly need to happen at some point in this storyline. With them appearing in the same issue, though, it's hard to keep from feeling like the plot has slowed to a crawl.
To be fair (no pun intended), "Fairest" #18 does have some other progressions. Charming and Nalayani attempt to escape the Village of the Dead, plus Nathoo attempts to keep order while Charming and Nalayani are missing. Neither plot point is bad, but they feel almost like background noise at this point; it's just enough to keep "Fairest" #18 from being boring, but it's just not as lively as what's been seen up until now. And to be fair, "Fairest" #18 suffers the most only in comparison to "Fairest" #15-17, all of which were extremely fun and well worth reading.
Sadowski's pencils look as great as ever, and while it's too bad that Phil Jimenez's inks are no longer gracing them, Andrew Pepoy's contributions are solid too. I like that Sadowski can draw a handsome man just as well as a beautiful woman, and neither lose sight of making sure the rest of the book looks good too. When Charming's body begins to break down as "Fairest" #18 progresses, Sadowski's pencils keep it slightly horrifying but not gruesome. I feel like that's the right approach to take; it shouldn't be a bloody spectacular, but Sadowski also keeps it from looking cute, too. There's a definitely menace in what's happening to Charming, and the balance between the two extremes is definitely kept.
"Fairest" #18 isn't the most riveting issue of "The Return of the Maharaja," but it did what needed to be done to set the story up for the conclusion around the corner. All in all, this storyline is still easily in contention for the best of "Fairest" to date, and for that alone I most definitely approve.