Loved the romantic fairy tale of Prince & Knight, the 2018 picture book about two young men battling a dragon and falling in love? Their tale continues in a new book out today.
Prince & Knight: Tale of the Shadow King, by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis (Little Bee Books), picks up where the first book left off. We see the Prince and Knight getting married and crowned by the Prince’s parents, though the Prince is the only one of the pair ever shown with a crown, even after this. (And the Prince is still a prince, not a king; presumably this is akin to Prince Charles being crowned Prince of Wales.)
Soon after this happy day, though, “a fog of darkness spread” throughout the realm, destroying crops, and the Prince and Knight know they have to do something. The kingdom’s sage tells them to go and find the Shadow King, whose “soul is filled with rage.”
Prince and Knight set off with their warriors and encounter the Shadow King’s army of monsters. They beat them all (though there is no gore shown) except for one, who threatens the knight until the prince saves him, just as the knight saved the prince from the dragon in the first book. The knight kisses the prince on the forehead and they once again reaffirm that they’ll put their lives on the line for each other. The equality in their relationship (despite their initial difference of rank) is one of the strengths of both books.
The Shadow King knows he is defeated. He tells them, “I want to end this darkness” and shares his tale with them. He used to be happy, he explains, “But soon the world turned against me for the way I dress and speak.” This isn’t explained further, though we see that he wears a rose-colored tunic that hangs to mid-thigh, along with wide, dark rose pants and a long cape. I think his clothes are meant to be gender creative, but this is a fantasy world and they also have the vibe of royal robes, so it’s hard to tell. His long hair, which hangs to his waist, could also be viewed as gender creative (if we assume gender markers in this world echo our own), but this is not mentioned as a reason for his harassment. And his speech is not described, so we can’t determine why it was the object of ridicule. I know that some young queer children assigned male at birth get teased for talking “effeminately,” however; they (or children with other speech differences) may be able to see themselves here even if the book leaves out the details.
The Shadow King explains further, though, that “Because I loved a squire, I was banished to the dark,” and his growing sadness is what triggered his evil powers. Again, though, it’s unclear why his love for the squire was opposed. Was it because of homophobia? The Prince’s realm easily accepted the Prince and Knight’s love (and on the first spread of this book, we see a female same-sex couple as well); perhaps the land that the Shadow King had ruled was less welcoming. Or was it because of the social differences between a king and a lowly squire? The text doesn’t tell us; readers may interpret this as they wish.
Regardless, the Knight assures the Shadow King that he was treated unfairly. “Our differences make us unique. Let’s celebrate them with pride,” the Knight tells him. The Knight waves his hand to paint a rainbow across the page as he adds, “Like the colors of the rainbow, I’m glad we’re not all the same.” It’s a little on the nose as a queer analogy, but perhaps that’s the point.
The Shadow King is filled with hope. The prince invites him back to their home as sunlight spreads across the land. There, the Shadow King “built his own family,” and we see him with his beloved squire, who wears a long skirt/kilt and is helping a young child learn to walk.
As in the first book, the Prince and his parents are White, as is the Shadow King. The Knight’s skin and hair are darker than the Prince’s, and appear somewhat darker even than in the first book. Characters in crowd scenes are of various skin tones, including several who appear Black. Lewis’ warmly colored illustrations have a Disney-like quality in the best sense as they paint both the world and its characters.
The rhythm of the rhyming text jolts awkwardly at times, but the message of how harassment can lead to self-hate and spill out to impact a whole community is a fitting expansion to the themes of love and acceptance from the first book. Likewise, it’s good to see characters who appear to push the norms of gender expression. Let’s hope they’ll be centered in a future book in the series.
The book is being published as part of the partnership between Little Bee Books and GLAAD. As with all books from the partnership, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to GLAAD’s work of “accelerating LGBTQ acceptance.”