Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel — everyone’s heard of them. But what about Liam, Frederic, Duncan, or Gustav? They’re the ones who rescued the famous damsels in distress, but thanks to the lazy bards who wrote the fairy tales, they’re all simply known as “Prince Charming,” with no stories of their own…until now.
Happily ever after doesn’t quite live up to everyone’s expectations, and soon the four princes find themselves the center of a new story when they uncover an evil plot that could destroy all of their kingdoms. They must band together, despite their various issues, to become the heroes no one — including their princesses — thought they could be.
A fun adventure
My last adventure with MG fiction was successful, so I dove into The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom with little hesitation. It’s fun to see the ways contemporary authors are turning classic tales on their heads, and author Christopher Healy does it well.
It’s true that the men of fairy tales are all rather lumped together, and I like that someone is taking the time to flesh out and explore those characters in a way that is, I think, empowering to boys who pick up the novel. Each hero is flawed in some way, but each is also gifted, and the lesson of putting aside differences and learning to work together is not something boys hear often.
There are lots of great characters to love (or hate), but my favorite is actually the narrator. The story is told in third person omniscient, and the all-knowing narrator chimes in with little asides and sketches (black and white illustrations drawn by Todd Harris) scattered throughout.
This is an adventure, after all, so there’s requisite numbers of evil witches, bandits, trolls, dragons, and dwarves. Fortunately Healy manages to avoid stereotypes of these kinds of villains, and even throws in a few surprises.
Then of course there are the princes themselves — over-dressed, over-confident, overly-macho, or overly-oblivious, depending on which one you talk to. They’re each a little annoying at first, but they grow on you as they stretch and become better versions of themselves.
Plus there’s lots of sword-fighting and butt-kicking.
And a little thought-provoking
It’s not too often that I read YA or MG fiction written from a male perspective, so it’s definitely cool to think about the kinds of things I normally consider from a female perspective.
For example, the idea of the princes as the ones who are useless. Sure they’re “heroes,” but beyond that label there’s not much to them. The stories never gave them a chance to be individuals.
All in all, a wonderful beginning. The second in the series, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, was published earlier this year.