Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review - The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker
by Jen Wang
Date: 2018
Publisher: First Second
Reading level: YA
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 288
Format: e-book
Source: library

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.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: Major Spoilers! To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

Just so I don't get any hateful comments, let me start by saying I don't have a problem with the overall premise. My complaints about this book aren't because it's about a teenage boy who likes wearing dresses; rather, it's the fact that the premise seems shoehorned into a historical setting, rendering the whole thing rather unbelievable.

Graphic novels can often be a little short on story, and this is the case here. Basically, we have a seamstress (Frances) who's hired by the prince (Sebastian) to make him a wardrobe of fabulous dresses so he can tear up the town as his alter-ego, Lady Crystallia. Okay, fine. But I found that I had to suspend a ridiculous amount of disbelief, right from the very beginning. I found the pages at the end, where Jen Wang explains her process and shows some early sketches from the book, rather interesting. Had she gone with teenage Sebastian's original look, I might not have been fighting with my brain the whole time when it was screaming, "Nobody would have believed this man was a woman!" In the final version, Sebastian is drawn with a very prominent nose and ears, rendering him unambiguously male. Even when he's wearing his dress and wig, it's obvious he isn't actually a woman. (Someone with such distinctive features never would've been able to pass for a woman... never mind go unnoticed as the crown prince.) It's sort of the Clark Kent/Superman thing, where you're wondering the whole time why people never notice it's the same guy; glasses don't make that much of a difference.

But what really ticked me off, right near the end, was how Frances, Sebastian, and the king hijacked the fashion show, pulling the royalty card to get their way. Never mind that it wasn't their show. Never mind that they were on private property. They basically turned a turn-of-the-century Parisian fashion show into a Pride Parade... and everybody loved it. Again, we're back to the believability factor. Yes, it's Paris, which was known as being a leader in fashion... but if Sebastian dressing as a woman caused such a scandal, why was everyone so willing to embrace cross-dressing on the runway? After that, the book completely lost me, since everyone came around (including the store owners), Frances and Sebastian got exactly what they wanted, and everything was tied up in a tidy, sappy, unrealistic little bow. I don't have anything against happy endings, but this was just too much.

I'm left questioning why the author chose to set the story when she did. A more modern setting would've worked better. As it is, it paints everything with a very modern brush, implying that the world of turn-of-the-century Paris was a lot more tolerant and accepting than it actually was. The dialogue also would've worked better with a more contemporary setting; the overly modern turns of phrase continually pulled me out of the flow of the story, almost from the very beginning.

While I hoped to enjoy this one, I didn't. Jen Wang is a talented artist, but I'm not sure the choice of setting combined well enough with the subject matter here. If you can suspend disbelief and don't mind seeing 21st-century values superimposed on historical stories, you might like this one more than I did.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 ladybugs

No comments:

Post a Comment