Rod Espinosa, . . Antarctic Press, $24.95 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-9728978-6-0

This unexpected tale of a young princess who rescues herself from an evil dragon is seemingly for young readers yet should bewitch all fantasy fans. Espinosa's saga follows Princess Mabelrose from her early days as a quite unspoiled princess to her epic journey to return to her modest kingdom after being carried off by a dragon. The beast loves gold and princesses, of course, and lives in a ruined castle surrounded by a thorny wood that has been the ruin of countless would-be rescuers. Not content to wait for deliverance and unaware that her father has set out to claim her, Mabelrose uses her smarts to sneak away from the stronghold, taking along the most useful items in the dragon's treasury: a camouflage cloak and boots that make her walking easy. As Mabelrose traverses the land of 100 kingdoms, she encounters the generous Munken folk, who shelter her from the dragon, and the puzzlingly hostile Leptians, animals who are ruled by a cruel tiger. Her charm consistently wins her friends along the way, from Spiky the porcupine to a boar who, despite a princess's kiss, fails to turn into a prince. Espinosa's influences seem to be equal parts Grimm fairy tales, animated Disney films, the Wizard of Oz and Japanese manga, and the work is meticulously rendered in a seductive palette of brights and shadows. While our heroine may not be the fairest in the land, she's adorable enough to be a convincingly attractive leading lady. Mabelrose's journey remains unfinished at the book's close, leaving way for a sequel. (Oct.)