Review: Jen Wang weaves a tale of hope, dreams, and identity in The Prince and the Dressmaker

Courtesy Jen Wang

Set against the backdrop of 19th century Paris with its operas, ballets, and burgeoning modernity, The Prince and the Dressmaker stitches together the familiar tropes of traditional fairy tales and a more nuanced narrative that will resonate with today’s readers, young and old.

A young, starry-eyed maiden yearning for something more meets a prince in disguise. Frances, an upstart dressmaker, finds her life intertwined with the visiting Belgian Prince Sebastian, when he discovers her work at a royal ball. Enticed by her daring, unconventional designs, Sebastian employs Frances as a seamstress. Unbeknownst to the royal court and the rest of the world, Frances’ skills are put to work not towards mending and tailoring regal, princely outfits, but towards sewing beautiful flowing gowns for Sebastian to don as he takes to Parisian nightlife as the enigmatic and fashionable Lady Crystallia.

Of course, as the only heir to the throne, Sebastian shoulders a burden that he fears will not take kindly to his real passions. And so, as part of their arrangement, their dealings must remain a tightly-kept secret. Unfortunately for Frances, this means never sharing the spotlight with her brilliant designs.

In her third full-length graphic novel, Jen Wang once again demonstrates a deft hand in weaving together panels, ink strokes, and keen writing. My foray into Wang’s work began with her first book, Koko Be Good (2010), an enrapturing exploration of the all too-asked question of what it means to be a good person that has stuck with me since my middle school years.

With The Prince and the Dressmaker, I find that what had resonated with me in Koko Be Good remains a fundamental aspect of Wang’s storytelling, present in the manner with which she writes, and in her colours and lines. Wang captures a tenderness that makes her characters blossom to life, in the way they move, interact with each other, and in the subtle expressions in every individual’s face. Continuing and leaping to new heights of storytelling from her previous works, Wang excels at translating sharp and honest observations about hope, dreams, and identity into the pages of The Prince and the Dressmaker. With a practiced hand, Wang tenderly weaves our heartstrings together as one with Frances and Sebastian, as we root for them to find love, joy, and recognition.


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