Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Genre: YA, fairy tale retelling
Published on March 18, 2008
Published by HMH Books
Read From: 12.27.11 - 12.29.11
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?
Loved it. Ben is one of those characters whose flaws make her a wonderful heroine. Sounds contradictory? I'll admit that the majority of flawed heroines (and heroes) are more than a little annoying, and usually leave much to be desired. But Princess Benevolence is one of those rare characters who must have flaws, otherwise she wouldn't be as good as she is. Few Authors can create endearing flawed heroes/heroines, and make it work. Ben is a girl who doesn't know how to do much, is rather spoiled, and petulant. But because she is a girl who also grows and matures as the book progresses, and because her situation makes her contrariness understandable, it didn't grate on my nerves. Who can blame Ben for her acts of rebellion when her aunt strikes her hand and locks her in a tower? The fact that Ben herself acknowledges continually throughout the book that her behavior was less than acceptable also helps the Reader know that Ben does, in fact, mature, and grows to be a strong young woman - almost like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, who starts out as a sour young girl, and slowly she grows.
The Author was also triumphant with Sophia - a step-mother figure who manages to seem unbelievably cruel in the first two parts of the book, and then slowly softens into a character which Readers can actually like, and can then forgive her treatment of Ben. She comes across as an uncaring, hard-nosed, cruel, bitter woman, but just as Ben alters her opinion of her aunt, the Reader comes to do so as well - and rather than making the characters seem contrary and erratic, it feels more like when you realize that your first impression of someone was wrong. It works somehow.
My biggest complaint is a minor, and yet it isn't so minor. Though the book promises a romantic relationship for Ben, I began to suspect that maybe there wouldn't be romantic attachments, and I was excited. The way things were going in the book, it seemed a completely suitable conclusion for there to be no romance. The "hero" is rude and mean - and his behavior never changes. But of course, my hopes came to naught, and the sudden love between Ben and "Prince Charming" (no, that isn't what he is called) is exactly that - sudden. It felt out of place, and was frankly disappointing if only because Ben grows to be such a mature young woman, while he remains rude and surly.