Princeless follows the quest of Princess Adrienne to free herself and her sisters from their fate of waiting for a prince to save them from their towers. From the beginning Adrienne has rebelled against the idea of princesses being passively saved by princes, asking her mother, "Who has the kind of grudge against this beautiful princess that they would lock her in a tower?"
Adrienne decides, after finding a sword after another failed rescue attempt by a prince (one who didn't even know the definition of fair, at that), that she is going to save herself. She doesn't need a prince to save her--no princess does. She decides that not only will she save herself, but her sisters as well.
This is a cute story, for sure, but it's so much more than that. Adrienne questions a world where women are expected to be second class citizen. They're not expected to rule or hold jobs that traditionally are for men (such as Bedelia secretly smithing in her father's place). They're expected to wait for their prince and depend on men to take care of them. A very touching moment came at the end when Adrienne's mother confides in the prince that she's treated her own daughter like currency rather than the child she loved. She's been groomed to behave this way.
But this story doesn't just point out the pressures that females are expected to adhere to. The male perspective is shown through the prince, Wilcome, who tried to save Adrienne. There's a brief look at how he went to Prince Charming school when he really just wanted be a kid. He was ripped away from that to become a Prince Charming and shown how prince's act--only to find out that being a prince was harder than it was made out to be, especially when he still felt like a kid. He says no one comes to save a prince when he's locked up.
Adrienne's brother Devin presents another view. His father pretty much says that Devin isn't fit to rule his kingdom because he's soft. He expects one of his daughters to marry a strong prince who will take over. He laughs away any talk of one of his daughters ruling because that isn't their place. Devin isn't good at sword fighting, preferring poetry to fighting. And he's never allowed to forget how much of an heir he's not by his father. And I appreciate this balance being added to the story.
Yes, this is a story about gender binary, but it's not preachy. It's a cute story whose moral simply is girls can be strong and boys don't always have to tough, that boys and girls aren't boxed in by their gender. This is exactly the kind of story I want to read to my daughter. I love comics, but it's often hard to find something age appropriate. And if it is age appropriate, it's very hard to find one where the lead is a character of color.
I posted a couple of the panels on Tumblr where I had a brief exchange with the author who expressed excitement that I was reading this with a friend and because I wanted to share it with my daughter. I mentioned that she was one-part princess and one-part tomboy, and I see my daughter in this story. I did a Google search on him after that and read an interview where he said he wrote this comic for the exact same reasons that I expressed in my post (he wrote it for his daughter when she gets older). I can't wait to read more of this story.