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The Courageous Princess: The Quest for Home. By Rod Espinosa. San Antonio, TX: Antarctic Press, 2001. 1v. (unpaged). $12.95. Publisher address: 7272 Wurzbach Suite 204, San Antonio, TX 78240.


Kids, adults, teens; nothing objectionable at all

In the first volume, Princess Mabelrose was kidnapped by a dragon but escaped its lair with the help of some magical items and a talking porcupine, Spiky. She hasn't found refuge at the beginning of this volume, however; she's still in the dragon's range. Meanwhile, her father, King Jeryk of New Tinsley, travels to a seer to get a sense of where his lost daughter is, and he's told that she's in the Unremembered Lands. This is not good news, especially for Mabelrose. While camping in the woods with Spiky, she's rudely awakened by the dragon passing overhead and its landbound servant, Mukhorgouroth, a vicious wolflike tracking creature that moans Mabelrose's name as it approaches. She and Spiky flee but are cornered at the top of a waterfall that they attempt to decend via her woefully short rope. Hoping that her magic ring will let her fly, she lets go of her rope--and the two plunge straight into the water below. The rope, which is sentient (unbeknownst to the pair), follows them down. Spiky and Mabelrose manage to surface and grab hold of a log, and they have a rough ride until they manage to struggle to shore.

Spiky is OK, but Mabelrose is badly hurt and cannot leave the shore. The rope comes out of the water, and while at first Spiky believes it has evil intentions, it soon proves to be a friend, and it helps him carry her to a hidden place. Then, with the rope keeping guard, Spiky goes in search of help. He finds a small settlement and, afraid to reveal to the people who live there that he can talk, he lures their dog into the forest. The people follow, find Mabelrose, and take her back to their village, where they nurse her back to health. They are Munken, a small and friendly but tough people. Without revealing that she's a princess (though they figure it out from her clothing), Mabelrose grows to love the Munken, and they her.

Time passes, and Mabelrose returns to full health. She decides to continue her quest for home, despite the approach of winter and various troll sightings in the area. The Munken shower her with gifts and food, all of which fit neatly into her magical pouch. Elsewhere, the dragon is pretty pissed at his incompetent troll army, which shattered itself against the Munken stronghold in an attempt to find Mabelrose, and orders even more patrols to look for her. But she takes the high road over the mountains, where she and Spiky get snowed in and take refuge in a bear cave. She spends the winter here and, when spring comes, she emerges a young woman.

As she and Spiky leave the cave, they encounter a talking boar with one leg in a trap. The judicious use of a ruby allows them to open the trap, and they patch up the boar's leg. The boar, named Boar, has a magic box around its neck, and Mabelrose has earned a gift from it: a pouch of seeds. Boar then serves as their steed to their next destination: the kingdom of Leptia.

This really is a charming series. The story in this book flows right along with no draggy parts, but plenty of adventure, humor, and appropriate sentiment. Espinosa's craft has made some notable strides from the first book to this. There are lots of little touches that I really liked, both storywise and artistically: the way King Jeryk handles a group of officious goblins trying to extort money from wayfarers; Spiky and Mabelrose's argument as they dangle from the rope; Spiky's pathetic attempt to prevent the rope from getting past him, and then his confusion as to which end to talk to; Mabelrose's collapse into a Munken lap when she's reminded of her mother; Mabelrose's obvious growth when she emerges into the spring thaw; and Boar's desire for a kiss from Mabelrose, and what happens thereafter. I also loved the scene with the seer, who turns out to be the prince from the Rapunzel story; he got more than his eyesight back when Rapunzel cried over him. (And yes, Rapunzel is there too.) That's a nice conceit.

I would've liked to have seen a bit more of the dragon and the "dark side" creatures, though. The Mukhorgouroth is a neat critter, and it's a shame that it was killed off so quickly; maybe it's got a twin brother out there somewhere. And I look forward to more offbeat takes on fairy tales; the map and offhand references are so tantalizing.... Kingdom of the Lost Prince, City of Seven Swans, the Pea Kingdom.... I wonder if the princess in the Pea Kingdom is called Fred.... (And if you get this reference, you oughta be checking out this section of Rational Magic as well as The Comics Get Serious.)

As always, one wishes there was more book to this book, but more are forthcoming. Kids will continue to love the series, and adults and teens who like stories that play around with fairy tales should also find it intriguing. In this post- Harry Potter atmosphere, with its increased interest in fantasy, The Courageous Princess should prove popular.

Rod asks that you purchase the book through Mile High Comics!

Copyright 2002, D. Aviva Rothschild


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