Let’s face it. Most fantasy stories have issues with diversity. For example, it wasn’t until 2009 that Disney had a black princess in an animated film. And even when female characters are heroes, they still usually fall into the princess role — if they are part of a group they are usually stuck as the brains of the operation, or take a back seat to their brave, male protectors. These kinds of stereotypical roles hurt everyone. But fear not, for Princeless from Action Lab comics is here with a fresh take on a tired genre.
Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless is a rare type of genre parody that can stand on its own legs, have actual heart, and present a positive role model for readers, in contrast to many parodies which settle for just pointing out the flaws. From the first few pages, it begins to tear down the princess-in-the-tower trope and addresses the lack of non-white heroes in main steam culture and myth. Princeless is a book that has a solid story with fun characters. It can appeal to everyone, but is particularly inviting to young and female readers. In a market that is traditionally geared towards adolescent men, that is something to praise.
Princeless is the story of Adrienne, a princess and one of 7 sisters (and a brother) who ends up raising a bit too much heck in the castle. So, when she turns 16 her father seals her inside a tower guarded by a dragon. For most stories this is where the knight rides in on his horse, saves her, and lives happily ever after with her. This is where Princeless departs from the princess-in-a-tower format. After watching far too many ignorant princess attempting (and failing) to rescue her, Adrienne strikes a deal with her dragon and hatches a plan for escape (because her dragon’s term of service ends with it dying so she can be rescued). So equipped with left over armor and a mysterious sword that she finds hidden in her tower, Adrienne sets out to save her sisters from their own prisons.
Volume 1 is essentially the origin story and set up for the future. We meet Adrienne’s family, including her monster of a father (because who else locks up daughters in towers and failed princes in dungeons?); her mother, who has become too complacent; and her brother, who is a scholar and failure in their father’s eyes. The irony of the family’s dynamics rests in the fact that, ultimately, Adrienne has the qualities that her father wants in a son; she is brave, smart, and willing stand up for what is right. But, due to strictly enforced gender roles, she gets shoved into a tower to wait for a prince. Along the way we also meet Bedelia, Adrienne’s new friend and armorer, who learns important lessons about making armor for female heroes. The book is a fantastic amount of fun with memorable characters all over.
Artwise, M. Goodwin’s illustrations have a sketchy feel to some areas but manages to be cartoony and expressionistic — perfect for a fantasy adventure — and the coloring gives the book a wonderfully animated feel.
The series is published by Action Lab and is perfect for the kids who may have outgrown Disney films.
Highly recommended for ages 6 and up.