Sunday, May 10, 2009

Princess Ben

Like many books I review, I'll read a mention of the book from some lucky bookseller who has an advanced copy.  I'll get excited about the book, rush to my neighborhood bookstore or library and then realize the book doesn't come out for several months.  Sigh.  

Princess Ben was one of these books so I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived at my library.  And promptly settled down to read it...

Princess Ben is about a young free-spirited and slightly overindulged princess, who after her doting parents are tragically murdered, is left to the devices and education of her cruel aunt.  Her aunt, Queen Sophia, becomes more frantic about the quest to cultivate Princess Ben with hopes for making her marriage material when the neighboring kingdom (the chief suspect in the parents' deaths) begins to put pressure to overtake the kingdom.  After one particularly bad interaction between the Queen Sophia and Princess Ben, she is shut up in a cell behind her aunt's room.  However, the room holds an unexpected escape by way of a secret passageway that leads to a mysterious magical room...

Princess Ben started off with a bit of an angsty feel and, when coupled with the tragic circumstances, I steeled myself for a typical tortured heroine fairy tale.  However, by the Part Two of the book, I realized that this story was far from the typical fairy tale!  For start, the heroine isn't a delicate golden-haired beauty or even a feisty brunette beauty.  She's a sulky, strong-willed girl with a voracious appetite.  Her maturing and growth throughout the book is only one of many; it amazed me that characters that I made immediate judgments about (oh, she's the villain, he's the love interest) would change through the story as the narrator, the irrepressible Princess Ben, changed.  Catherine Gilbert Murdock's clever interweaving of fairy tale references only add to the cleverness of the story rather than serve as distraction.  

This story was deeper than the average "fairytale retelling" genre and delivered humor, adventure, and dare I say it, a valuable moral.