Upon reading this title, which compiles the first 4 issues of the comics, I did have concerns that this could fall very flat. For one, we have the well trod motif of fish out of water – will this be an inane comedy, a mean girls retread, or just fall flat? For another, is this a title that Ted Naifeh fans will love but others not indoctrinated won’t appreciate? It turns out, this is neither. What we have is a story full of empathy – and about empathy.
Story: Princess Ulga is descended from a long line of Valkyrie like warrior queens. Her Kingdom is constantly besieged by barbarians and their land knows only battle and loss. Before her death, her mother presses Ulga to find another way and end the stalemate. To find a solution, Ulga leaves her homeland and travels to the warm south to a princess school. There, she will have to learn to bridge the gap between her rough life and the pampered princesses in whose company she finds herself. But the other princesses are not going to make it easy for “Princess Ugg”, as they call her.
What I liked about the story is that it isn’t so much about catty girls full of rainbows and unicorns (ok, maybe there IS a unicorn in there). Nor will Ulga have to conform to the princesses in order to fit in. Rather, by the end of this first volume, it is clear that Ulga will have to learn how to bend in their direction but at the same time also find a way to get the princesses to bend in her direction. This diplomacy will be the cornerstone of the knowledge she will need to find a compromise between her kingdom and the barbarians.
The volume doesn’t quite complete a story arc; what we have is Ulga ready to run away but by the end, finding an unlikely ally who will convince her to stay. It will be interesting to see how Naifeh translates the conflict with the princesses into knowledge needed for her kingdom in the future.
The artwork is lovely. Though Ulga is short and muscular (and almost ‘chibi’, to use a manga term), the colors are bright and well chosen. I enjoyed the illustrations as much as the story (perhaps more so), especially since the princesses represented several cultures.
I did rank this down a star, 4 out of 5, due to a few issues that bothered. I wish Ulga didn’t talk like a Scottsman. It was incongruous with all the Norse mythology. I would rather she had sounded abrupt, boastful of her proud heritage, and rude (as was shown in the scenes of her Kingdom). I also wish the Norse mythology wasn’t so obvious. I would have liked more imaginative fantasy and less lazy writing that just steals wholesale from an established culture. In a story with unicorns, the less reality, the better here. There were also some inconsistencies in the artwork that were a bit distracting.
Ulga is a wonderful character, though. Both assured and unsure about herself, desperate to find an answer to her kingdom’s problems but not sure the princess school is the solution, but determined to find a solution. I’m glad this isn’t about transforming the warrior into a beautiful princess.
In all, I did enjoy this and look forward to the next volume.