Prince Charmless by Jeanne Willis is a picture book, illustrated by her long time working partner, Tony Ross. It has all of Ross’s usual quirky asides in the pictures including bugs wearing top hats and animals commenting on the main action by their own actions in the background, which really make this story come alive.
It is a modern twist on a classic fairy story character. Instead of Prince Charming we have Prince Charmless. Prince Charmless is exactly as you would expect. He is rude and ruthless, cruel and nasty and demanding to the nth degree. Everyone dislikes him, and eventually all the palace staff quit, utterly sick of the way he is allowed to treat everyone.
The king and queen wonder what to do, and in the end they decide to get on with governing the land, and let Prince Charmless fend for himself.
It is at this point the book takes a rather strange turn. You would expect that after a day of looking after himself ineptly, Prince Charmless would learn his lesson, beg his pardon of everyone and go back to being a lovely prince – but no.
Prince Charmless instead learns that he actually really likes being alone, and being allowed to do things for himself. He does not miss his servants, nor does he apologise. He just learns to do things for himself and becomes, mostly, a nicer person for it.
A rather odd story, but one we quite enjoyed, mainly, it has to be said, for the illustrations.
We recommend it to children aged about four to six.