The Runaway Princess begins like an ordinary fairy tale.
The reader is introduced to the kingdom of Greeve, a land located in a magical world. King Stromgard and Queen Istilda rule it, joined by their daughter, Princess Margaret. However, Margaret, a.k.a. Meg, is no ordinary princess. At fifteen years of age, Meg is terrible at embroidery and she’s longing to learn swordplay instead. Not dreaming of meeting any princes, Meg wants to go on a quest of her own and gain some independence from her parents’ strict agenda. Moreover, Meg is shocked by her parents’ latest decision. Meg’s hand in marriage and half of Greeve have been offered as prizes for a contest! A contest specifically for princes only, the elimination of a legendary dragon, a local witch, and an evasive band of bandits are its main tasks. In addition, Meg’s revulsion toward her father’s (and the prime minister’s) plan for “economic development” lands her in a sequestered tower, from which the contestants are expected to rescue her as the fourth and final task. Meg’s inner rebellion turns into an actual rebellion against her parents’ authority by an escape and her own plan to win the contest herself with the assistance of her best friend Cam, her maid Dilly, and an aspiring apprentice guardsman named Nort. Magic, adventure, new friends, and more magic join Meg and her companions on an exciting and humorous quest that will astound Meg’s parents, the entire kingdom, the contesting princes, and Meg herself.
Kate Coombs’ debut novel couldn’t be more different from other “fairy tale novels.” Meg’s headstrong and tomboyish nature may not be surprising to a reader familiar with the fairy tale genre, but Meg’s sympathetic behavior towards dragons, the author’s original ideas about magic, and the Robin Hood-like bandits are fresh additions to a fairy tale of the author’s own creation. Though not based on any singular fairy tale, the storyline does contain some twists on well-known classics like Rapunzel and The Frog Prince. However, the romantic witch Gorba and the amusing “wizard boy” named Lex are two magical characters that certainly step outside of their stereotypes. Meg becomes her own rescuer and the true hero of the story, but the princes themselves still exhibit the same royal behavior—selfishness, arrogance, and greed, without caring about Meg or Greeve. The mysterious and clever Prince Bain is an exception, though not to being arrogant.
The expansive settings that Coombs describes are worthy of an illustrative map, and the notion that dragons inter-communicate via telepathy is quite interesting. Another unusual feature in The Runaway Princess is the almost complete lack of romance in the story, which is usually essential to most fairy tales. Nevertheless, the storyline is fluent and creative enough to keep the attention on Meg’s odyssey. Besides, when a determined princess, a baby dragon, her diverse friends, and a lot of magic are thrown together to defend Greeve against a wicked prince and his “colleagues,” a story like this should be entertaining as well as satirical about the ideas surrounding typical fairy tales. In The Runaway Princess, Kate Coombs fulfills both requirements.
Original review: Part 1: Kate Coombs successfully composes her own fairy tales, Examiner.com