Princess Ben is a departure from Catherine Gilbert Murdock‘s previous books, Dairy Queen and its sequel The Off Season, and it is quite a wonderful book! In this book, the author proves herself to be versatile as well as extraordinarily talented.
Princess Benevolence of Montagne is no ordinary princess. She has lived her life free of the constraints of things such as court etiquette, residing outside the castle proper with her parents who let her run wild, playing outdoors with girls from the village, and devouring fairy tales and her mother’s cooking.
Ben’s life is happy and uneventful, for the most part, until one fateful, dreadful day. Both Ben’s mother and the king have been killed, by assassins from the rival kingdom of Drachensbett, it is believed, and her father has vanished on the icy slopes of Ancienne, the mysterious and impassable peak that rises over the valley that is the kingdom of Montagne.
This tragedy leaves Ben under the control of Queen Sophia, at least until Ben reaches her majority and can properly take her place as ruler of Montagne. Sophia moves Ben into the castle and controls her every movement, not even letting her eat properly, in an attempt to turn the princess’s rather rotund figure into a more slender one. Ben is forced to learn embroidery, horsemanship, music, dance–all sorts of things at which she fails miserable. However, when she is locked in the castle’s highest tower, Ben does attempt to master one new skill: magic. She finds a secret passageway to a secret room at the top of the tower, a room which provides the tools she needs to become a sorceress of sorts. Perhaps those legends of wizards back when Montagne first came to be had a basis in fact, and Ben, as a descendant of theirs, is taking the tradition back up again in secret.
With her complete lack of grace or skill with a needle, but with a secret magical education, can Princess Ben free herself and save her kingdom from destruction or defeat?
I quite enjoyed this captivating new fairy tale, with its little references to the tales we know and love that made me grin. See if you can spot them! Ben is a wonderful princess, one who needs no prince to rescue her. I loved her even more because she didn’t care about her weight, and realized how many things in the world are more important than appearance. My pet peeve, though? When book characters claim not to care about weight and then lose some weight all the same. Sadly, Princess Ben does not escape this. That is a minor flaw, though, and overall I really loved this book. There is romance (although that is a bit hurried for my taste), adventure, magic, and an independent heroine who takes charge of her own life. Ben really grows as a character, and that was an aspect of the book that I really enjoyed. Princess Ben is written in a style that really fits the story–a bit old-fashioned and fantastical, as well as witty and intelligent. Catherine Murdock really has a way with words, and Ben’s distinct voice makes this story even more of a pleasure to read. Ben is not the only complex, interesting character, though; there were many characters I enjoyed, and the relationships between them were well-done as well. In short, Princess Ben is an extraordinarily well-written novel with all of the elements that make for an enchanting story I couldn’t put down!