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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

'The Prince and the Dressmaker' by Jen Wang

From the BLURB:

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia—the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances—one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

‘The Prince and the Dressmaker’ is a YA graphic novel released in February 2018, written and illustrated by Jen Wang.

Prince Sebastian is 16 and feeling the weight of a soon-to-be Kingdom on his shoulders. Frances is also 16 and a seamstress with dreams of wild dress designs to grace fashion runways and stages.

One day Frances designs a wildly inappropriate and fabulous dress for a socialite that lands her on the gossip pages – and out of a job. But Sebastian is enamoured of her design and has a proposition for her – to become his private dressmaker. Because Sebastian has two sides … one is a dutiful Prince, currently appeasing his parents by meeting eligible princesses to potentially marry. The other side of him, however, craves luxurious fabrics and fabulous outfits that transform Sebastian into the flame-haired Lady Crystallia. Nobody knows his secret, except private secretary Emile – and now Frances. Who agrees to become his very private designer and dressmaker, and together they’ll be the talk of the town.

‘The Prince and the Dressmaker’ is a subversive fable – a gender fluid celebration encouraging an embracing of ones true selves. I love that this YA graphic novel exists, and is telling such a complex but necessary story. That there’s also a romance in here between Sebastian and Frances, a gentle and yet bracingly uncomplicated unfolding, is also something to truly admire.

And I did really enjoy reading this, but I didn’t love it the way I wanted to. One aspect that I wanted amplified was the dress styles portrayed – a lot of them looked like somewhat ho-hum Disney Princess styling’s, and I was more hoping for Disney-meets-Lady-Gaga with the volume turned up to 150.

The other aspect I thought was just a little too gentle was Sebastian’s secret reveal. The fallout didn’t feel big enough for the pacing, like it wasn’t enough of a ‘Sebastian at his lowest point’ to properly meld with the dramatic finale.

At the back of the book, Jen Wang reveals that her original idea for the story had Frances and Sebastian as adults, before she changed her mind and thought telling this for a teen audience would be more powerful. I agree – I absolutely think this graphic novel being YA is impacting and meaningful for a readership that needs more nuance in all diverse tales. But seeing the rough sketches of the characters as adults, and the barest hint of something more tantalisingly sexual and lustful … I think that could have amped the story up even more, and would have benefited from it. And I’ve no doubt I also think this because I have recently discovered the joys of adult comic book publisher, Iron Circus Comics – via the very romantic and erotic, 'Letters For Lucardo' by Noora Heikkilä.

So, yes – I enjoyed this graphic novel. But I would have loved everything to be more drama and just amped up a little. From the dresses to the fallout, I’d have loved just … MORE!


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