Changes are a’coming! I’ll be tweaking a few things here and there, nothing too major. The biggest thing will probably be a reordering of my format. These changes will (hopefully) come into effect with next week’s post.
Princess Ben is written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. It was published in 2008 by Houghton. Murdock’s website can be found here.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Fairy Tale
“With her parents lost to assassins, Princess Ben ends up under the thumb of the conniving Queen Sophia. Starved and miserable, locked in the castle’s highest tower, Ben stumbles upon a mysterious enchanted room. So begins her secret education in the magical arts: mastering an obstinate flying broomstick, furtively emptying the castle pantries, setting her hair on fire…But Ben’s private adventures are soon overwhelmed by a mortal threat to her kingdom. Can Ben save the country and herself from foul tyranny?
“Tell me. How may I assist you, Ben?”
I almost wept to hear my name, my real name, spoken within these cold walls. “I’m so confused!” I wailed.
“I understand. As the queen—now queen regent—indicated, the path ahead is shrouded in darkness. The fate of your father, the specter of war…”
I grasped the one bit of information that had penetrated my consciousness. “I am really supposed to marry?”
“That is the fate of all princesses, my dear. Every storybook teaches it.”
I glowered at the man, wondering if he had any notion of how ridiculous he sounded. “I trust you are enjoying your stay in our castle?” I asked at last.
“Would that I were, Your Highness. But I am afraid my sleep last night was quite troubled. This morning I identified the source of my bruises”—here he reached into a pocket of his waistcoat—“as a pea that had been tucked beneath my mattress.” With a sad smile, he displayed the offending object.
I uttered the first thought that entered my head: “Well, aren’t you frightfully rude.”
Sophia gripped my arm. “Princess, we must demonstrate our natural sympathy…How delicate you must be, Baron, to suffer such discomforts.”
“Delicate?” I exclaimed. “He comes into our home and tells us that our beds are full of beans—”
Recommended Age Range: 14+
What I Liked:
I must admit that when I read the description, I was afraid this would be one of those dreaded “princess rebels” plot lines that are so overused. Royal fantasy really needs to get some new ideas. However…I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was not like that at all (mostly). In fact, I really enjoyed this book!
First, let me say that the writing style really captures the royal lifestyle and the time period Murdock is emulating here. It’s very sophisticated and not at all modern, which is perfect for a book that is both fantasy and “royal.” Just reading the mini-introduction at the beginning lets you know that this is not a book that takes place in this day and age. It really adds to the setting and the ambience of the book.
All the references to fairy tales were wonderful little gems, especially since this book is sort of a fairy tale itself. It’s Snow White reversed, but Snow White in the very barest of ways to be Snow White. I think I laughed for about five minutes straight with the “bed full of beans” scene that I quoted above.
I must say, my mouth fell open at the end with what happened to Florian. I was not expecting it at all, and I wondered if Murdock was actually going to go through with it and have that stand like it was. I was actually excited at the difference in the plot at this point. Then, of course, Ben pulls a Prince Charming and everything is fine and dandy, but still. Best moment in the book, in my opinion. It was completely unexpected, since I was expecting a more obvious plotline, and even the turnaround at the end, though also obvious, was still good because at that point you just want her to do it.
What I Didn’t Like:
The writing really does wonders for the atmosphere of the book, but it’s very hard to read at times because it’s so…clunky. It doesn’t flow quite as well as “modern” writing, and at some points I was like, “Wait, what am I reading again?” It almost, but not quite, seemed overdone.
As much as I loved Ben and Florian, the romance really came out of nowhere. But then again, this is a royal fantasy book. Romances happen in seconds in these things.
Princess Ben is probably one of the better of what I am calling “royal” fantasies, simply because of its reversal of usual fairy tale tropes and of that awesome stunt that Murdock pulls at the end. Also, Ben and Florian are really cute (although very sudden), and Ben herself has a wonderful sense of wit and humor. The writing can be a bit hard to take sometimes but overall it really contributes to the book’s setting.
You can buy this book here: Princess Ben
Coming Up Next: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz