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The League of Princes by Christopher Healy – Series Review

The League of Princes by Christopher Healy – Series Review
Book Name: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom / The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle / The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw
Author: Christopher Healy
Publisher(s): Walden Pond Press
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Middle Grade Fantasy
Release Date: May 1, 2012 / April 30, 2013 / April 29, 2014

Ever wondered what Prince Charming’s real name is? Meet Frederick. And Gustav. And Liam and Duncan. They are the Prince Charmings (or Princes Charming, as Frederick insists), and they’re determined to prove that they are more than just those princes from the songs. So when they stumble across a dark plot forming against all their kingdoms, they meet it head on with their own brand of good intentioned, elaborate-plot-making, enthusiastic blundering.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (cover)The League of Princes is a middle-grade children’s fantasy series set in a fairy-tale world. This is a world full of magic and monsters, heroes, witches, bandits, bounty hunters, trolls, ogres, pirates and more. And, of course, the princes and princesses from the famous fairy-tale: Frederick and Ella (Cinderella), Gustav and Rapunzel, Liam and Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), and Duncan and Snow White. The books don’t rehash the classic fairy-tale – they’re set afterwards and involve entirely new adventures – but they do reference and often twist many of the ideas and tropes from the tales, and there are plenty of surprises in store! The series begins with The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, then continues with The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle and The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw.

These are incredibly fun and fast-paced books, as well as genuinely laugh out loud funny. The humour is the kind that both kids and adults can appreciate, ranging from the zany and slapstick to witty banter and clever jokes. There is a light-heartedness that runs through all the books, even when things get increasingly dangerous (and a little dark) as the adventures go on.

A lot of this comes from the wonderful narration, a playful conversational style that speaks directly to the reader, sometimes commenting on the action and sometimes even giving peeks of things to come. This style has so much character that it sets up the narrator as another character himself, and it perfectly suits the tone of the books.

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle (cover)I enjoyed reading this series so much. It’s a classic adventure story that moves from kingdom to kingdom, exploring many memorable places and larger than life characters along the way. The story is also quite complex, more than it seems like it might be at first. There is a sizeable group of main characters, especially later in the series, and the narrator moves between them, with subplots complementing the main action. The author never talks down to his intended audience but at the same time fully understands what kinds of situations will be most appealing to them. Even though the later books are a little longer than most middle grade fiction, they never feel long. The pacing is spot on and the reader is always pulled along with a new encounter or a wink.

The series’ biggest strength is its characters, who contribute to a lot of the humour as well as adding an enormous amount of heart. The princes themselves are fantastic leads, an unlikely mix of personalities that just work so well together, with a believable set of strengths and weaknesses. Things don’t always go their way (this could pretty much be the tagline of the series), but even when they are royally (pun intended) messing things up, they are at all times completely endearing and lovable.

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw (cover)But wait, a story about the princes coming out of the shadow of their princesses in order to save the day? Is this just another fairy-tale in which the women have no agency and no part in the adventure? Nope! Don’t worry, it’s not that kind of book at all. In fact, the princesses are quite capable themselves. They follow goals and live lives separate from their princes and are certainly not defined by their fairy-tale. Though the first half of the first book is dedicated to the princes, Ella and Liam’s sister Lila soon jump into the action, and all the princesses (as well as a few other women characters) have an increasingly important role to play as the series progresses. They are just as well-written as the princes, with their own quirky personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and I loved that they were just as likely to get themselves into the same kinds of hilarious, bizarre scrapes as the princes.

So the protagonists get a big thumbs up from me, but the bad guys are pretty awesome too and sometimes, let’s be honest, steal the show a bit. Meet Deeb Rauber, the obnoxious ten-year-old bandit king whose dreaded pranks hold an entire army of bandits in a grip of fear. Meet Rundark, the warlord who would feed his best friend to sharks just for blinking wrong. Evil comes in many forms, and things aren’t always what you would expect. In a land where trolls are vegetarians (hampered a little by the fact that they don’t have the first clue how to actually grow veggies; it’s much easier just to steal from those handy human gardens) and where ogres are just trying to get by peacefully (while smashing things), where princes can be outlaws and dwarfs can be dwarves, and bards might just be your biggest enemy of all, you can be sure that there will be a few surprises along the way.

So meet me in the Stumpy Boarhound and draw up a chair, order a drink (maybe give the food a miss) and prepare to dive into a really fun, entertaining and surprisingly complex series with a funny new take on the classic fairy-tale.


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