Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw (The League of Princes #3) by Christopher Healy

Good stories have a character's emotional arc linked hand-in-hand with the plot. Great stories dig deep into themes that reflect the human condition. Humorous stories that make me go from snort laughing at to "snot laughing" with the characters are keepers. Christopher Healy takes pop-culture and familiar fairy tale stories and pokes fun at common motifs or gender stereotypes and turns them upside down. Because there are so many characters the emotional payoffs for The League of Princes come in different books and at different times. Ya kinda, wanna, sorta, read these books in order. This plot takes off where book two ended. For a nice balance of humor and action, then Pickety this up, as the sprites would say.

Briar Rose has supposedly been murdered by The League of Princes and princesses making them outlaws. Gustav is disgusted that the "girls" are included on the Wanted posters, but then these are not the brightest princes. In fact, unlike the classic fairy tale where the man saves the princess, it is usually the princesses saving the princes after they've made a mess out of a rescue mission. Each character has a unique skill that comes into play during the action scenes that results in saving the group. Even the most inept characters such as Duncan and Snow help out in some weird way whether untangling knots (Duncan's talent) or hurdling an object with the precision of a major league pitcher (Snow's talent). Teamwork is one of many themes in this series and this crew of noble ninnies never accomplishes anything until they work together.

In Chapter one, Prince Frederic's father, King Wilberforce, worries about his son's safety. Book two has them arguing and Wilberforce tells Ella to leave the palace because she is a bad influence on Frederic, getting him into dangerous adventures. Frederic, in turn, gets mad at his dad and leaves the castle. Book 3 starts with Wilberforce looking for Frederic's whereabouts and questioning Frederic's valet, Reginald, who doesn't answer but tells the King that he needs to treat his son like a man and stop mollycoddling him. When Wilberforce responds stupidly, Reginald gets sarcastic. Wilberforce says, "'You're being cheeky with me, aren't you, Reginald?' 'Cheeky sire?' the valet replied. 'You're giving me cheek. Sass. Cheeky sass.' [great wordplay... I read that wrong the first time, did you?] 'I would never dream of it, Your Highness. Look at all those medals on your chest: Best Posture, Team Solitaire Champion, Silkiest Mustache. I have nothing but the utmost respect for a monarch with so many ...amazing accomplishments to his credit.'" Giggling in an uncomfortable seat at the Amsterdam airport, I felt warm breath on my arm as the kid next to me leaned over to glance at my book. I gave her a thumbs up. Yep, this is a book to recommend.

Frederic seems to have made the most progress emotionally out of all the characters and by the end of this book even his father has learned to look beyond his own goal of self-preservation to help others. Frederic seems to have embraced his geekiness and has moments where he's surprisingly witty. At one point he outsmarts the villains and likes it when they acknowledge his brains. Frederic is not a character that I ever thought I would call intelligent, but he seems to be coming into his own. When he sits in pajamas and has a heart-to-heart conversation with Rapunzel it seems that he's matured in a humorous way. Healy does a great job balancing gags, action, and meaning in the series. Briar Rose is probably my next pick in the pack for changing the most. Gustav's character falls in love but he's still trying to find self-confidence. Liam is a chauvinist that is now saying he's worried about Ella's safety. This capey guy's ego keeps blinding him in relationships. Don't worry. I won't go through all twelve characters. The pattern continues as from previous books where the princes are the main protagonists and the females their foils.

Healy pokes fun at conventions and skips along with word plays from start to finish. Frederic notices that the Wanted posters picture of him are so accurate of him he can't deny he's the person in them when captured, "The artist we hire to do our family portraits makes me look like I"m half goblin, the sculptor who crafts the League's victory statue gives me a nose like a toucan, but the guy who draws the Wanted poster? He nails it."  Snow White parodies Disney's "Whistle While You Work" song, "Dunky, you know I'm never one to shy away from chores - they provide an excellent opportunity for whistling." I'm telling you, Healy is a pop-culture sponge. Liam reminded me of Seuss when he called, "twinkle-bugs," "twiddle-bugs" (as in Dr. Seuss's, Muddle Puddle Tweetle Poodle Beetle Noodle Bottle Paddle Battle). Then you have all the made-up words from Duncan that sounds like Winnie-the-Pooh. Rapunzel rides a mare named, Pippi that made me think of Pippi Longstocking. Then there's the pirate, Orangebeard and the Djinni in a bottle that loves the word, "Baribunda" and says it whenever the chance arises. Duncan names the kraken, "Cecil" and the ship is called, "The Wet Walnut." And a character named, Val Jeanval, is a wordplay on the character, Jean Valjean, from "Les Miserable." Here's a good line by Gustav, "I"m irrigated because I"m tired of being on the run." To which Frederic replies, "Igitated... or irritated. I'm not sure which one you meant." Honestly... Healy's an ADHD version of the Brothers Grimm. Or "goofnoodle."

His creation of different character voices is a hoot. Only one pirate, Gabberman, talks like one. "So we'll first be needin' to untie them big ropes. If I could just figger out where they're attached..." Then there is the Djinni, "You are the possessor of the fabled Bottle of Baribunda, gateway to the realm of Baribuna, home of the Djinni of Baribunda." He's your typical crazed genie from being bottled up for hundreds of years, but this one is frustrated at being cut off from giving his spiel when he mists out of his glass cage. And I'm not even going to get into the Elf who wants respect and Greenfang that never gives up on a mission. Or the boy that wants power. Or the woman, Val, that joins the princesses, Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters, or ffff, as Snow dubbed them (Duncan is rubbing off on her). Now say, "ffff," out loud.

Marvel should make a movie out of this series.

5 Smileys

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