The middle-grade reader The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs is actually old-ish (2006), but I stumbled across it recently when trying to find information about a new book with the same title by Johan Troïanowski, and it happens to tie in with our Summer Reading theme, Imagine Your Story, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it.
The plot of The Runaway Princess is familiar: an unconventional princess, Meg, discovers a plot to wed her against her will, and she sets out to change her own fate. Along the way she befriends an old witch and a young wizard, a bandit queen and a baby dragon, and even manages to worm her way out of embroidery lessons. Kate Coombs wrote a follow-up book in 2009 called The Runaway Dragon, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
The first thing that struck me about this book was its cover. It’s got a fun, old-timey design with vivid purples and oranges, and the picture focuses on the tower that plays such a big role in the story, and even gives a bit of foreshadowing about a plot twist (I won’t spoil it for you).
This book was an ALA Notable Children’s book and the 2007 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year. In story and tone it’s very similar to two of my all-time favorites, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, as all three feature strong female protagonists going through sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious fantastical adventures and overcoming obstacles through wits rather than brute force. These books also aren’t afraid to poke fun at some more stuffy fantasy conventions. Harry Potter fans will find something familiar in the take-charge and occasionally scheming attitudes of Princess Meg, gardener Cam, and housemaid Dilly as they attempt to save Meg from marrying a ditzy prince.
Read-alikes, other than the previously mentioned Ella Enchanted (also available as an audiobook and ebook), include The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, and The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker, both of which are the first books in their own series.
This book is best for middle-grade readers, but younger kids who are reading above their grade level will find it interesting too. Some boys may be put off by the girl-centered narrative, but there’s plenty of action and adventure to satisfy readers of all genders. Grownups who like fantasy will be able to appreciate the way that the novel plays with genre conventions.