Frances is a young, talented, hardworking dressmaker. She wants to make wonderfully glamorous dresses. No one quite gets her art form and design, including her boss and the aristocrats he works for, and neither does the new department store opening up downtown. At best, they think they can make money off her work. At worst, they are offended and enraged by her work. She loses her job after giving a young woman exactly the dress she wanted. The young woman, Lady Sophia, looks amazing in her new ball gown, and she knows it. But this dress isn’t a typical ball gown: black with a great mass of black feathers and sequins. It shocks and terrifies other guests at the ball, and her family is furious.
Luckily, someone else has seen Lady Sophia’s fantastic new dress and would like to employ Frances. Frances goes to meet this mysterious aristocrat and finds herself face to face with the Prince. He admits to Frances that some days he sees himself as Prince Sebastian, but on other days that doesn’t feel quite right. “Those days” he tells Frances “I feel like I’m actually a princess.” For those days Prince Sebastian sees himself as Lady Crystallia, and needs wonderful, stunning, trendsetting dresses. Also, Prince Sebastian thinks it would be wonderful to have a friend who understands.
This is a beautifully drawn and colored story that plays with the conventions of fairy tales and romances, letting characters develop in nuanced and delightfully unexpected ways. Some of the story’s many turns are so delightful it was necessary to take a moment, take a pause in my reading, and punch the air in celebration. Jen Wang has taken many of the traditional archetypes of fairy tales and romances and added another aspect by placing the story in a graphic novel format. In interviews she has stated that the book opens up many interpretations: it is a tale for those who are exploring their indentity in general, and it is also for others examining different modes of gender expression, genderqueer or cis male.