The Prince and the Dressmaker
If you’ve heard of it, you’ve likely heard The Prince and the Dressmaker compared to a fairy tale. There are a bunch of reasons for that — the royal premise, the Cinderella-like experiences of the lead — but mostly, I find it accurate because of the unexpected happy ending.
There’s nothing wrong with that! I don’t believe Jen Wang (In Real Life) intended to create a realistic portrayal, but a lovely fable of what things could look like if everyone’s able to do what they want without fear of discovery.
Frances is a lowly seamstress who listens to the young lady she’s selected to make a dress for at the last minute instead of her overbearing mama. The lady doesn’t like the whole social fuss, so she requests a “ghastly” outfit that makes her “look like the devil’s wench.” Frances creates a proto-goth gown in see-through black with an abundance of feathers that brings her to the attention of a customer who will change her life.
Prince Sebastian is in Paris for his parents to select a bride for him. He likes to wear dresses, going out in the evening in dramatic, beautiful gowns made for him by Frances. (It’s the only thing in his life he can control.) She agrees to keep his secret in return for the ability to advance in her career — designing fabulous dresses is her dream job. She accepts him, and he gives her all kinds of opportunities. With caveats.
Wang’s art is perfectly suited for a story with such fanciful elements. (It’s set in the modern age a while ago, combining both royalty and the birth of the department store.) The gowns are gorgeous, the settings dreamy, and the characters expressive and emotional. Particularly interesting is the way the dresses are drawn without black lines, making them seem more unreal and magical. The whole book is welcoming and comfortable, a pleasant change from more realistic stories about what it means to be a young man who doesn’t fit in.
Although many will love it, that part of the story didn’t speak to me as much as Frances’ struggles as a creative artist. She’s offered the chance to sell out but does she want to make the changes her potential patron demands for commercial reasons? Is the work enough if she doesn’t get the recognition for it she deserves?
The Prince and the Dressmaker is an involving work where the reader cares about the characters and the choices they make. Would that we all could find our way with loved ones as supportive as those shown here. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)