The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
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Sweet, silly, swashbuckling end to fairy-tale saga.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Like the rest of the Hero's Guide series, this installment is entertaining rather than educational, although author Healy throws in the occasional oblique reference to some literary work -- Les Miserables, for example, with the Val Jeanval character, or Proust with Briar's book Remembrance of Kings Past. Young readers will enjoy comparing these versions of fairy-tale characters with their originals.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about friendship, determination, loyalty, family -- and the importance of finding the people you're really happy with.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Princes and princesses overcome many challenges in their efforts to save their kingdoms and do the right thing. Would-be leaders Liam and Ella soon find themselves cat-herding their sometimes ditzy, often strong-willed companions. Our heroes often treat their adversaries better than they might deserve -- which has a way of serving them well. Rapunzel the healer follows her conscience to heal friend and foe alike. 

Violence & Scariness

Violence is near-constant -- starting with the fact that our heroes are being hotly pursued by bounty hunters, since they've supposedly murdered Briar Rose. Swordplay, brawling, piracy, warfare, mind control, and untimely deaths (from a villain crushed by a giant sphere to another character who makes a startling exit to the afterlife) abound, but they're comically cartoonish. Also, a lot of dead characters seem to have trouble staying that way.

Language

Gustav's "Starf it all!" is the book's strongest language.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Christopher Healy's​ The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw is the final installment of the Hero's Guide trilogy. It brings the tale of the four Princes Charming to a satisfying close, with upbeat messages on loyalty, friendship, kindness, developing a spine, and the strange way someone's peculiar qualities turn out to be just what's needed to save the day. As you might expect after reading first two books, The Hero's Guide to Saving the Kingdom and The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, the hefty (528 pages) finale is a nonstop barrage of cartoonish mayhem, inspired silliness, dramatic reversals, and romantic comedy. Assorted villains are bent on killing the four Princes Charming and their (usually far more competent) female counterparts, and some characters (human and otherwise) come to violent ends. But it's hard to take the cartoonish hack-and-slash too seriously, especially since Rapunzel's tears heal the wounded and many of the dead have trouble staying that way. Note: Author Healy reviews video games for Common Sense Media.

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What's the story?

Our heroes Princes Gustav ("Angry Man"), Duncan ("Pipsqueak"), Frederic ("Tassels") and Liam ("Capey") and heroines (Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella and Princess Lila) have scarcely caught their breath after the events of Book 2 when--surprise!--more peril looms. Liam may have escaped an unwanted marriage with Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), but now he and his friends are the prime suspects in her murder. And as if it's not bad enough to be pursued through 13 kingdoms by bounty hunters, our heroes soon discover that all those kingdoms have been taken over by mind-controlling sinister forces. Encounters with monsters, pirates, dungeon-keepers, witches, giants, beasts of prey, and heavily armed soldiers ensue. Will the League of Princes and the Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters survive? Will they live happily ever after? Will it be worth the trouble?

Is it any good?

THE HERO'S GUIDE TO BEING AN OUTLAW careens through 500-plus thoroughly engaging pages of madcap, slapstick perils and wisecracks. By that time, Christopher Healy's three-volume saga has jumped not only the shark but the giant mongoose, the brain-melting beetle, and the shape-shifting snake. Don't expect things to make a whole lot of sense; do expect many charming moments as various characters fall in love, display courage when it counts, and save the day in reliably oddball fashion.

Aside from the mostly cartoonish violence, there's little problematical content and much entertainment value. The story's an excellent read-aloud choice, but adult readers-aloud are warned that author Healy tosses off the occasional cultural in-joke that will go right by little ones and have grown-ups in giggles, as when a character named Val Jeanval joins the entourage. Some allusions only Baby Boomer grandparents might recognize, like when ditzy Duncan calls a sea monster "Cecil."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why new stories about traditional fairy-tale characters are so popular. Do you see the original stories differently after you've experienced the modern updates?

  • What do our often bumbling heroes have in common with the heroes in other adventure tales? How are they different?

  • Do you prefer inspiring adventure stories with larger-than-life heroes, or something on the sillier side? Do you think it's possible to be both brave and silly?

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