Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula
The unique conceits of Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson make a charming fairy tale for all ages, although I suspect adults will better identify with Decomposia’s struggles.
Although a princess, she’s overworked. Her father stays in bed all day and has left all the work of running the kingdom to her, although he won’t recognize her contributions and effort. He’s also a hypochondriac and a food faddist, which means they can’t keep a chef. That’s important, because visiting delegations of lycanthropes and yokai expect to be properly entertained. Meanwhile, Decomposia is so busy she doesn’t even have time to eat.
Enter Count Spatula, a talented baker. And he cares about her, providing the friendship she needs.
The art style resembles that of Watson’s previous Glister, although the crayon look used makes it denser and darker, suitable for a decaying castle. I can’t tell, exactly, if Decomposia has bat wings behind her head or just really unique pigtails. The kitchen helper is Clove, who apparently has a garlic clove for a head. (And an adorable brood of kids.)
Watson’s confidence in simplification gives the book the feel of a classic cartoon, particularly with the mummy and skeleton courtiers dropping off ever more papers for Decomposia to handle. I very much sympathized with her struggle to be good to her family and handle too many responsibilities. While kids will find the monsters and the eating entertaining, that’s why I say adults will most know exactly how Decomposia is feeling. For example, this sample page illustrates one of my fears: Losing so much touch with yourself that you don’t know what you’d do if given time of your own.
I also adored the count’s explanation for why he’d lost his fangs: “Cake. And biscuits and pastries. Anything with sugar, really.” Too many sweets! Of course that’s a hazard for a baker. The magic of the setting comes through in his dessert creations, such as a lemon drizzle cake that’s a literal drizzle, served with umbrellas.
But it’s the underlying meaning, the struggle Decomposia faces between her needs — to be a dutiful daughter, to keep the kingdom running, to bow to her father’s dependence on tradition and the way things have always been done — and her essential positive character and search for her own way, that makes Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula such a great read. With its blend of cooking, romance, and fable-like fantasy, it’s terrific and fulfilling.