“Don’t let the dragon hit you on the way out”: a review of PrinceLESS

Princeless-issue-1 image

Saturday, one of our young patrons came up to the reference desk with a chapter-book sized graphic novel from another library.  She told me—with some prompting from her mother—that it was The Best Story EVER and she’d wanted to borrow volume two, but the other library had sent the first one again.

Luckily, we had volume two on the shelf, and the young patron danced her way to check-out.

By the time I returned to my chair, it was break-time, so I snagged the unneeded volume of the best story EVER, meaning to drop it off at customer service, so they could check it in and send it back home.

Instead, I opened the book and skimmed a few pages on the way.

And went past to the break room, still reading.  And finished it at lunch.

And took it home.  And read it to Sunny, after wresting it from Jane, who had stolen it right out of my hands.  And pried it away from Sunny again this morning, because I needed to check my spelling and she was hiding behind the easy chair in the living room, sounding out the words to herself, and giggling.

I don’t know if it’s The Best Story EVER . . . but it’s very, very close.

Princeless volume one coverPrinceLESS is the story of Princess Adrienne, who refuses to buy into a system that has  kings sticking their sixteen-year old daughters into towers guarded by fierce monsters, just to find sons-in-law as ruthless and misogynistic as they are.   She’d rather learn swordfighting with her twin brother—who is not the heir their father wants, being a bright and thoughtful boy—and argues so loudly against the Tower method of courtship that her parents, who have already placed five of her older sisters in towers, agree that she won’t have to go.

Adrienne wakes up the morning after a drugged birthday dinner in the bedroom of a tower guarded by dragon Sparky, who enjoys snacking on princes-in-a-can, unaware that the people who trained her to guard princesses are the same people who sell dragon-killing weapons to hopeful suitors.

Adrienne is so done with all this.

So when she finds a sword under her bed, she explains things to Sparky—who is understandably upset to learn that she’s nothing but knight-fodder—puts on a slightly singed suit of armor, and goes forth to rescue her sisters.

After she puts a saddle on a dragon (and maybe a seatbelt), finds some armor for a warrior woman that’s more substance than style (No Metal Bikinis!), escapes her father’s wrath (maybe burning down her tower was a bad idea), and makes a new friend (a girl who smiths like a dwarf and hits like a really big hammer) . . . and figures out where her sisters are.

Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin have created an amazing story about a young woman who doesn’t understand why she should follow a tradition based on a story full of plot-holes, illustrated by golden-haired princesses who don’t look like her and perfectly coiffed princes who don’t interest her.

Most of the characters are so invested in this system that they can’t see that it doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did.  Even the king complains that he’s running out of daughters to lock up, and still no son-in-law . . . but his pride won’t let him change the status quo.  There’s also some question as to whether Adrienne’s sisters will want to be rescued, as they’ve all been taught that someday their prince will come and give them the happily ever after that they’ve been told they want.    Volume one includes a short, flip-side story (illustrated by D. E. Belton) about one of Adrienne’s hapless princes that shows how unfair the system is to both sides.

It’s a remarkably well-rounded world, in which tradition has always trumped common sense—until Adrienne decides she wants more.

But despite her brains and fighting ability, she’s no Mary Sue—she’s new to this knight gig, and has some fairly embarrassing (and hilarious) problems along the way.   As she says at one particularly undignified point:

“Someday . . . they’ll tell about the heroic deeds of the brave Princess Adrienne.  When they sing those songs . . . I hope they leave this verse out.”

Lucky for us, these books don’t.

They’re full of brilliant and often snarky commentary on gender roles, class, inequality, privilege of all kinds,  and what children really take away from fairy tales.

I know what I want my kids to take away—which is why I’m thrilled they love PrinceLESS as much as I do.

Pretty sure you and your kids will, too.


17 thoughts on ““Don’t let the dragon hit you on the way out”: a review of PrinceLESS

  1. I discuss kid books with my nine-year-old granddaughter all the time. Besides, I’m working on writing a chapter book and you can’t write for kids without reading what they read. Thanks for the tip.

  2. I cannot wait to get this for my sons.
    Okay. So my sons. Are going through a…thing? They both told me separately that, “Oh, yeah, but Mommy girls totally couldn’t do (fill in the blank). As my head was internally combusting and my husband’s eyes were popping out of his head that our two cherubs would be stupid enough to utter this to ME, he said calmly, “You do realize that Mommy is a…girl?”
    They looked at me, at him, and then stated, “Yeah, but you are so much tougher than Mommy.”
    To which he laughed and said, “Oh, son, you are so much dumber than you look.”
    They are going to be inundated with so much feminist literature their heads will spin.
    And until then, maybe a graphic novel.
    Suffice to say, thank you.

    • I am giving your husband a standing ovation: “Oh, son, you are so much dumber than you look.”

      My kids are going through that, too—even to their own detriment. It had better be a phase . . .

      Let me know how your boys like PrinceLESS!

  3. This is published by Action Lab and is currently being released again in single issues as well as a full sized trade. Issue #1 can be preordered now from comic shops.

  4. Hey Sarah!
    This is Jeremy. I wrote this book and a friend found your review and shared it with me. Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m so glad you got to read it and that the girls liked it so much. As Bryan said above, we will be releasing the first volume again soon (it sadly went out of print for a while). The second volume should be readily available. Also, if people are okay with reading digitally, it’s on comixology.com for $1 per issue. So, hopefully, some of your readers will be able to get ahold of it one way or another.

    Thanks so much for the review and if you ever want to chat (for the blog or otherwise) let me know!

    Thanks again,
    Jeremy Whitley

    • Hi!

      Thanks so much for the fantastic story! I’m so pleased that the first volume is going to be reprinted soon—that’s taken care of almost everyone on my holiday shopping list. No exaggeration; my Dad will love these.

      I’ve already ordered the second book for myse—I mean, us. I didn’t want to wait three weeks for the library’s copy to be returned, and the copies at the branches are all out, too.

      Clearly there is a need for a hero like Adrienne!

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