There’s a difference between girl power and female empowerment. Girl power is Disney movies (well, especially Disney movies before Frozen), where Belle and Mulan get to be headstrong, independent, and self-confident women but the story doesn’t have a happy ending until they’re happily wed. Female empowerment can still contain romance, but it doesn’t feature the love of a man as the missing puzzle piece. But Disney is the company that has been appealing to our little girls for decades, so girl power is the message those girls have been receiving.
Princeless, a title from Action Lab Entertainment, written by Jeremy Whitley, looks to change all of that and more. For the first time, we can have a princess of color wearing the kind of dress that’s labeled “princess” in the dress-up clothes section of Target, regardless of how accurate that is to what princesses really wear. This isn’t Pocahontas or Mulan, which is not meant to denigrate their culture-specific garb, but it adds to that collection, rounds it out. This isn’t Tiana, who only gets to wear her ballgown because of a friend’s kindness, and who only gets to be a princess through marriage. Tiana is important too, as Disney’s first African American princess, and the criticisms about portraying her as coming from a low socioeconomic status can’t take away her importance to the genre. But Adrienne’s dress is pink and frilly, her parents are wealthy royalty, her tower is tall, her dragon is protective.
In the first Princeless series, Princess Adrienne escapes her tower, wields a sword, and meets a dwarf girl named Bedelia who will design armor appropriate for a young woman and who will join her on her mission to save her sisters. This week, the next chapter comes out, and a third young woman will join their team: Raven Xingtao, granddaughter of Ming Two-Tails the pirate queen. Raven grew up listening to tales of her grandmother’s feats and daring, and was trained to use a bow from a young age. Now called The Black Arrow, her reputation has reached as far as Bedelia’s little village, and Bedelia admires the heck out of Raven. So how did Raven come to be locked in a tower, in need of rescue from Adrienne, Bedelia, and their dragon?
This book is the team-up book of sisterhood and empowerment that the princess genre has been missing. It may have already been on its way (see: the moral of Frozen, about sisters being more important than boys), but it feels fresh and almost revolutionary. The original Princeless book addresses the way that gender roles are harmful for every gender, as Adrienne’s twin brother is expected to fight but would prefer to write poetry, and Prince training overwhelms young men with nonsensical rules and a constant battle to keep up appearances. This book doesn’t ignore that, but goes further to address the way that the men for whom masculinity and prince stuff is natural are ignorant to how harmful it can be.
All this doesn’t even address the art, which is warm, natural, polished, and appealing. The character designs are adorable and relatable, the action scenes are dynamic, and even the body language between the girls as their partnership begins tells its own story of companionship and kindred-spirit-ness.
Whether you’re buying for yourself or for a child, regardless of your gender, Princeless: Pirate Princess is a solid book and absolutely worth picking up this week.
Princesless: Pirate Princess earns 9.5/10