“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.