After finishing up Lumberjanes this weekend (and being very sad I didn’t have more to read immediately), I started on Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin. This comic ticks so many of my boxes: fairy tale re-telling, a smart girl who can fight, a little big of magic, plenty of snark.
The protagonist of Princeless is Adrienne, a princess whose parents (the king and queen) have imprisoned her in a tower guarded by a dragon. It’s a tradition in their kingdom; the idea is that only the bravest, best (male) warrior will be able to defeat the dragon and rescue the princess, thereby earning the right to be the next king (women and girls cannot rule in their own right, of course). Adrienne learns of this tradition in a very Disney-fied way when she’s a little girl, and there’s some awesome snark where she just rails against this terrible story, begging her mother not to lock her up like that. But of course, that’s how it goes for her. At least at first.
Adrienne doesn’t put up with it for long. She’s formed a bond with her dragon, who has eaten many would-be dragon-slayers over the months (years?) she’s been in the tower. And when Adrienne decides enough is enough, the dragon – Sparky – helps her stage her own death so she can go rescue her sisters, who are similarly locked up in towers.
I love how Princeless plays with fairy tale tropes, mocking them in a loving sort of way. There’s one awesome scene where Adrienne decides to stop by a shop to get some armor that fits her (she had previously cobbled a set together from the dead knights’ leftovers). The female armor offered has names like the Diana, and it’s as impractical as the name would suggest. Of course, Adrienne is able to convince the smith (another girl who becomes her friend and adventures with her) that armor for women and girls doesn’t have to differ that much from armor for men and boys. It’s a perfect scene, great for the comic’s intended age group of middle grade readers.
One of the most important aspects of Princeless is that Adrienne is black. It’s really, really rare to find a black princess in a fairy tale story, particularly one so uber-white as Rapunzel. Whitley and Goodwin call attention to this, too, in an early part of the story, when one of Adrienne’s would-be rescuers refers to her as “fair,” as many fairy-tale knights do in other tales. “Be you a moron?” she says to him. “Do you know what fair means? You’re so anxious to take a wife! Why don’t you take a book first?”
I was reminded strongly of Shannon Hale and Dean Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge while reading this, as both focus on a re-telling of Rapunzel where the princess uses her own ingenuity to rescue herself. They’re natural readalikes for each other, though they’re not quite the same in tone, and the story post-escape plays out much differently. There’s also a strong Dealing With Dragons feel to it. I’m not sure how much today’s kids are still reading that series, but the relationship between Adrienne and Sparky is similar to that between Cimorene and her dragon. I have a feeling Cimorene and Adrienne would be great friends.
The art is great, perfectly friendly for a middle grade audience with character expressions full of personality. I’ve only read the first volume, which collects issues 1-4, but there’s a second one out that collects 5-8, plus a handful of other stories. Highly recommended.