What a gorgeous book!! I absolutely loved every single second of this graphic novel – the art style was vivid, colourful and unique and the story was a powerful message about being yourself and being kind to others.
Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride – or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night, he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia – the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!
Sebastian’s secret weapon is his brilliant dressmaker, Frances – his best friend and one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect her friend?
‘Some days I look at myself in the mirror and think “That’s me, Prince Sebastian! I wear boy clothes and look like my father.”. Other days it doesn’t feel right at all. Those days, I feel like I’m actually…a princess.’
This story is a strong one about identity, belonging and being proud of yourself. The Prince and the Dressmaker features Prince Sebastian, the young Crown Prince of Belgium and Frances, his loyal dressmaker who dreams of bigger things for her work. The story begins as an exploration of Sebastian’s character, and how he feels dressed as Lady Crystallia. We see his growth and his freedom at being able to slip into character and to feel comfortable and at peace as Lady Crystallia. Frances is more than happy to help Sebastian’s dreams come to life, and is pleased to help Sebastian keep his secret. After all, if the secret is out then Sebastian will never be able to visit this side of him again.
The secret takes its toll on both characters – as Lady Crystallia gets more popular in the fashion scene, the dresses she wears are catching the eye of the fashion elite who want to showcase the work. Frances is thrilled – until Sebastian forbids her from entering her dresses in the show as herself. As Frances is known at the palace, people will recognise her if she enters the show. Entering the show will mean Lady Crystallia’s true identity is exposed – and Sebastian can’t let that happen.
There is a sweet budding romance at the heart of this, with fond friendship and care turning slowly into something more. The art style was beautiful – I have seen Jen Wang’s art before in In Real Life, a graphic novel about online gaming, and her art style is beautifully unique. Colours burst from the pages, expressions are powerful and readable, and there are even some pages with no speech bubbles at all which really give a great impression of what the character is feeling. I was moved by this story, and towards the end was hurting for both characters who just want to be able to be themselves.
It’s lovely to see gender fluidity in graphic novels, as it’s a visual experience and we can see the growth Sebastian is going through with his identity and how he shows himself to the public. There’s definite change between his character as Sebastian – somewhat disinterested, nervous and shy – and as Lady Crystallia – confident, elegant and proud. This is such a great book on acceptance but also not allowing people to get in the way of your dreams. It also shows that you can help others achieve greatness, but most importantly it gives the message of being yourself no matter what others think. Frances achieves this very early on by leaving her job when her boss scolds her for making a bold dress for a princess. Sebastian learns this lesson slowly through the book, and it is his pace we follow as he becomes more confident and finally feels himself.
Final thoughts: A beautiful graphic novel full of colour, diversity and acceptance. 5/5