The Princess Beard is the third book in Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne’s “Tales of Pell” series. Once again they have me nearly doubled over with laughter while also appreciating their pro LGBTQ+, feminist, socially conscious agenda and sly pokes at the establishment. Each of the three books this duo have written together can stand alone and be read individually. However, the world is much richer if you have read the other books. And as they are hysterically funny, I highly suggest reading all of them anyway!
Overall these books set out to poke fun at just about every fantasy trope out there. They also spoof pop culture along the way; Star Wars, Harry Potter, Star Trek, among many others. References to classic literature such as Robinson Crusoe, Alice in Wonderland, and Moby Dick are sprinkled throughout.
Oh? Yes? What? Pellanus has just informed me that proper Fantasy books are always written in the third person past tense, and so I will switch. Are you ready? Because, you see, I will no longer speak as I, Itchmael, but will begin telling a different story about other people, mostly. Still, when you see the Sn’archivist, that’s me. I mean him. I mean, I am him. Bother. Ahem.
And the puns, so many puns! Dawson and Hearne have fun with words and creative spelling. Names of locations in Pell are a good example. I would often mentally say them aloud and chuckle at the result. There is a group of islands referred to as “The Several Macks”: Mack Guphinne (MacGuffin), Mack Muphinne (McMuffin), Mack Enchiis (Mac n’ Cheese), Mack Elmorr (Macklemore).
Alongside this high level of irreverence there is a lot of heart. The title, The Princess Beard, comes from the Lady Harkovrita who has been asleep under a curse for some time. Her hair has already been used by someone to climb her tower. The enchantment has been broken and she has awoken to find that she has a resplendent beard. Before falling asleep, she was betrothed to Lord Vas Deference, and she refuses to be married off. She cuts off her hair but keeps the beard, dresses in disguise, and climbs down her own hair to escape. Upon leaving the tower, she renames herself to hide her identity further and settles on Morgan as it could be either male or female. Morgan embraces her beard as a new part of her, decides to take control of her destiny, and sets off to get as far away from home as possible.
Vic, short for Pissing Victorious, is a centaur who desperately wants to be a swole boy and super manly, in response to having been bullied by his father and other colts, when growing up. His secret wish is to travel to Mac Guphinne and be cleansed of his tea magic. Convinced that if he could only get rid of the cursed magic that has him creating dainty tea cakes, tiny sandwiches, cookies, and lots of lovely different types of tea, he would be more manly and everyone would like him. Incredibly toxic in the beginning, Vic has a lot to unlearn.
Tempest is a dryad who was sold into slavery and recently freed by a lawyer halfing. Seeing the power that a lawyer can wield, she vows to journey to Bustardo and join a prestigious law school. Tempest has a naturally kind heart and in her humanoid form can use magic to heal. However, the cost is she starts transforming into the second life stage for a willow dryad, she will become a carnivorous willowmaw, rooted in one spot, eating up any prey she can grab with the long branches. Tempest is constantly torn between wanting to help and delaying her transformation for as long as possible.
Alobartalus is an elf from the Morningwood but he doesn’t look very elf-y. He’s short, freckled, red curly hair, and his ears could be pointier. He doesn’t behave like an elf either, not interested in pranking and practical joking. Looked down upon by other elves, including his father, Al has been sent away from the kingdom to oversee the tourist attraction of the Proudwood Lighthouse, on an island just off the coast. He spends his days tricking tourists into thinking they’ve experienced elven mysteries all while dreaming of sailing south to the Sn’Archivist and maybe one day taking over the job.
These four misfits are all in need of transportation to get south so they sign on with the Clean Pirate Luc, real name Filthy Lucre, who is looking to fill out his crew before embarking on adventure. Filty Lucre is a red and yellow parrot with a treasure map, his ship The Puffy Peach, and his loyal crew including first mate Qort Qobayne (say it out loud). There is treasure to be found but the journey of self discovery that Morgan, Vic, Tempest, and Al go on is far more important.
My husband and I adore these books. “The Tales of Pell” have both of us literally laughing out loud while reading. These books are clever and fun, with a progressive narrative and trope twisting that’s refreshing to read. We had the great pleasure of attending one of their signing events for the previous book, No Country for Old Gnomes. The two are just as hysterical in person and I hope they continue to find the time in their busy schedules to write more in Pell.