This one was recommended by Colleen over at Chasing Ray, and I had to interloan it from another library.
3 Dead Princes by Danbert Nobacon. With Illustrations by Alex Cox.
The subtitle says that this is an anarchist fairy tale, though the author’s idea of anarchy is different from mine. I wanted it for a novel of a strong and rebellious princess, because I generally enjoy that sort of book. I was a little put off at the beginning of the book by a number of misplaced apostrophes and overused all-caps, but these editing errors happily stopped and I was able to get into the story. Princess Alexandra Stormybald Wilson, or Stormy for short, is the only child of King Walterbald Wilson the Second of Morainia, a small mountain kingdom. Stormy does not get along with her stepmother, Queen Gwynmerelda, but it’s clear that this is more because Gwynmerelda is an authority figure and a Stormy newly a teenager than anything else. It’s a cozy, egalitarian kingdom where Stormy volunteers at the library and does scout training along with everyone else, while Gwynmerelda teaches yoga classes. As our story opens, King Walterbald is off to go exploring for ancient artifacts for the summer, leaving the Queen to manage the Princess, and the important state visit of the Queen and one of the three princes of neighboring and aggressive Oosaria. Just before they arrive, the court Fool initiates Stormy – the first female ever – into the Order of Accidental Adventurers, in which her father and grandfather are also members. Then the Queen and Prince arrive. They clearly intend to force Stormy into marriage to facilitate their takeover of peaceful Morainia (which they want for its rich mineral resources.) When Stormy retreats from the dance floor, the prince follows her into her bedroom, and he hits his head and dies when Stormy pushes away his Unwelcome Advances. But a dead prince is still a dead prince, so Stormy and the Fool make off to keep Stormy safe until things cool down, protect Morainia, find the king, and also investigate the strange and vivid dreams Stormy’s been having, involving giant birds and Giggle Monkeys. They meet the Witch in the Ditch and her daughter Glamour and the enormous black bird the Gricklegrack along the way, and learn many things about the creation of the world which goes against the official church’s orthodox opinion. Stormy’s first menses play a role (I mention this for Nobodyjones at Did You Ever Stop to Think and Forget to Start Again?) It’s illustrated with wobbly sketch-like pen and ink drawings that make the book more funny and casual.
3 Dead Princes is told as a slightly silly adventure, with the humor shading towards dark, as you might expect from the title, but not quite as dark as I would have expected, because Stormy only kills accidentally in self-defense and isn’t at all a bloodthirsty princess. It is not quite an allegory, but a story set out to tell a message (which is quite different from a story that ends up having a message along the way.) Nobacon has quite a long afterward where he explains his theories of anarchy and his post-apocalyptic fairytale world, though it’s not really clear until the end of the actual story that the world is post-apocalyptic as well as fairy tale. I have to agree with Colleen that the anarchistic message actually doesn’t come through nearly as strong as Stormy herself, not content to settle for what she’s told should be her happy ending and willing to do whatever it takes to find one that works for her and keeps her kingdom safe in the meantime. The story says it’s for all ages, but that’s a difficult target to hit – it’s on the simple side, plot-wise, for adults; Stormy is a bit young for most teen protagonists, though teens would probably best appreciate the idealistic message of anarchy; younger children (or their parents, anyway) probably don’t want to learn about rape, though the first dead prince doesn’t get far at all in his attempt and younger kids might read it as simple bullying. Maybe I’d say for middle schoolers and up, or somewhat younger with parental guidance? Checking in the state library catalog, it seems to be shelved in the adult collection, but has Juvenile Fiction as a subject keyword. At any rate, it was a fun and irreverent take on fairy tales, with some interesting thoughts on political systems for those who are interested.