Two evil brothers have been knocked out and piled up on top of each other like pieces of laundry. The victor stands on top of them at a wide stance and proudly announces to other possible enemies, “Tell them that Raven’s back.”

That’s Raven, short for Princess Raven Xingtao, eldest child of the Pirate King and otherwise known as the Black Arrow. Raven can effortlessly swing, kick, joust, flip, and outsmart her enemiesand you especially don’t want to be near her if she’s carrying a bow and arrow. Raven was locked up in a tower by her two younger brothers who thought a life of helplessness was more befitting for a princess and to limit their competition for inheriting their father’s throne. Raven is rescued not by a prince, but rather by a princess, and not just any princess, but Adrienne Ashe, the daughter of her father’s sworn enemy King Ashe. With Adrienne at her side, Raven not only has to learn how to get along with a former enemy, but also has to re-establish herself as the rightful heir to the pirate kingdom.

Younger fans of swift-paced superhero comics will love the female leads, the plentiful fight scenes and the artful use of perspective to make readers feel as if they’re inches away from having their cheeks sliced with a porcelain dish turned into an impromptu weapon. In communities that serve a primarily elementary audience, I could see this volume being a hit with boys and girls alike. The racially diverse cast fight against sexism just as nimbly as they wield a sword.

However, I doubt this appeal would transfer to an early adolescent reader craving a darker and broodier action/adventure comic. The color palette is so pastel and the fight scenes are so easily resolved that the idea that the princesses might ever face a significant threat seems ludicrous. Raven and Adrienne don’t offer us much as far as characterization goes, and that they can go from sidekicks to rivals to practically sisters within a few pages is an unrealistic pacing for an older reader.

While younger readers may appreciate the girl-power intent of this series, self-conscious adolescent readers (or maybe just me) might find Raven’s and Adrienne’s impossibly proportioned hourglass figures dispiriting. If our superheroes are going to look like us in skin tone, shouldn’t they also have bodies like ours, too?

Princeless: The Pirate Princess, vol. 3
by Jeremy Whitley
Art by Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt
ISBN: 9781632291028
Action Lab Entertainment, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12

  • Amy Estersohn

    | She/Her Past Reviewer

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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