“Benevolence is not your typical princess- and Princess Ben is not your typical 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 and 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?”
~Description taken from book jacket
I’d almost given up on the fairy tale genre, despite it being one of my favorites. I’ve gotten sick of authors who write so called ‘feminist’ protagonists, only to have them shed any semblance of individualism as soon as they meet their love interest. This, combined with the fact these princesses often don’t take any real part in the plot (think of My Fair Godmother) has left me jaded.
Then I had the privilege of reading Princess Ben, which is not only close to perfection in its own right, but succeeds in redeeming the entire genre. At first it seems that Princess Ben is going to fall into the same patterns I’m desperate to avoid. Ben’s parents are assassinated, leaving her to take formal lessons with the seemingly two-dimensional Queen Sophia. Ben demonstrates the same aversion to activities such as needlepoint and dancing as most other modern princesses. What sets Ben apart is that she is not simply ‘bad’ at these lessons, but willfully impertinent. Instead of being clumsy, she purposefully steps on her dance teacher’s shoelaces to trip him. Ben refuses to be broken, and chooses to speak her mind even if it means physical punishment. Yet, she doesn’t dwell on any of these hardships, noting that many of the castle workers stand behind her and she still has a comfortable place to sleep at night.
What truly makes Ben delightful in my mind, however, is her complete apathy towards romance. She doesn’t fantasize over ‘true love’ like other girls, and even derides another character at one point for doing so. Even when she meets Prince Florian, Ben is practical and thinks his poor attitude is mort important than his chiseled looks.
In short, Ben is an immature brat, brilliant and simply one of the most enchanting narrators I’ve ever come across. Yet, the excellence does not stop at Ben’s own character. Since the novel is written in the first person, the other characters develop as she does. For instance, at the start of the novel Queen Sophie is the generic wicked stepmother, possessing no real emotion. But this is just how Ben perceives her. By the end, Ben realizes that Sophie, never having children herself, was simply trying to prepare Ben for life as a ruler in the only way she knew how.
The only fault I found in this book was near the end when the author was trying to stress how Ben developed. It is clear from her behavior and acceptance of her duties that Ben has grown a great deal, but some passages literally spell it out for the reader. This was condescending to the reader and entirely unnecessary, and the only reason I’m not giving the book a perfect score.