Princeless, Volume 1 – Graphic Novel Review

I came across Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin at a local comic convention and didn’t have to think twice before picking it up. The cover alone promised all kick-butt girls, dragons, and adventure galore. It did not disappoint.

princelesscoverIn Volume 1, when Princess Adrienne comes of age, she’s locked in a dragon-guarded tower because that’s A Thing That Happens to Princesses. Between the boredom of waiting and the dim-witted knights who show up to rescue her, she tires of this quickly. She decides that she’s going to be her own knight and so, with the aid of her dragon pal Sparky, rescues herself and embarks on a quest to free her sisters from their own towers.

A blurb on the front of this book calls it “the story Disney should’ve been telling for the past twenty years.” It’s entirely true. Adrienne is smart; the first few pages show a younger Adrienne tearing apart the plot holes in a traditional fairy tale. She’s also resourceful, and though she admittedly has a lot to learn about adventuring, she’s a capable heroine, well worth admiring.

Granted, she is entirely the “Not the Typical Princess” trope – a trope which, given that nearly every fictional princess these days is “Not the Typical Princess,” is becoming somewhat tired. However, Princeless makes this work by surrounding her with inversions of many other medieval fantasy tropes. Most obviously, despite the European-inspired setting, nearly every character in the main cast is a person of color. Likewise, Adrienne’s prince brother, who would normally be a heroic manly man in this sort of story, is meek and hesitant to inherit the throne, to the point where his father tells him to “stop being a woman.” Instead, his strength is found in his loyalty to his family and, unbeknownst to Adrienne, he plays a small but significant role in the beginning of her adventure.

Even the adventuresome elements are somewhat inverted. While it is all rollicking and fun, Adrienne encounters several practical bumps on her way to saving her sisters, discovering that dragons are hard to ride without saddles, and that it’s hard to fight in jangly armor that isn’t fitted to one’s body type. Though I usually prefer over-the-top adventure, it’s a nice change of pace to read about an adventurer whose problems are more mundane (well, for a person who has a dragon as a friend).

The comic is not without its flaws. However, most of them are minor. For some reason, the quality of the third chapter’s art falters in comparison to the art around it. It’s never off enough to be distracting, though. A bigger problem for me was that there are points where it feels like it’s trying too hard to be a commentary on sexist fantasy tropes. One chapter (also the third, in fact) is blatantly titled “On Sexism in the Armor Industry.” As relevant as the chapter is, I found it hard to believe that the female blacksmith introduced here designed and hand-made a whole line of armor for women without once realizing how impractical battlekinis are for protection—at least until Adrienne points it out. Throw in some stereotypical piggish behavior on the part of nearly every male in the scene, and the chapter reads like it was constructed solely to make a point. Fortunately, though, its actiony bits maintain the rest of the book’s sense of fun. And even with this forced point, it never reads like a preachy political pamphlet. Ultimately it treats its messages with the same sense of fun that it does its adventure.

That said, Princeless is a must-read for those who like to read about heroines with no time for princes. Still, casual readers of fantasy, comics and non, will find much to like in it, too.

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