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Book Review: Princess Ben

Can I just start by saying how much I love the title?  Princess Ben: Being a Wholly Truthful Account of her Various Discoveries and Misadventures, Recounted to the Best of her Recollection, in Four Parts is not just a title, it’s an elevator speech.  It gives just a taste–draws you in–ahh, it’s just wonderful~

Ahem. Moving on to the review, now.

Benevolence, Crown Princess of Montagne, is incredibly spoiled.  She has a love of food and sweets to the point of gluttony.  She insists upon filling her days with games and fairy tales, especially those of dragons who live on Ancienne, the mountain that guards her country, and the sorcerer-rulers who supposedly founded Montagne.  In other words, she is not exactly the Crown Princess her aunt, the cold Queen Sophia, and the gossiping lords and ladies of the court wish her to be.  Still, Ben is happy with her lot in life, and can’t imagine a time where she will have to survive without her doting parents to guide her.

When Ben is fifteen, she is striken by a head cold on the very day that she is supposed to pay her respects to her grandfather, who died to save Montagne from Drachensbett, the neighboring country that has tried to conquer Montagne for generations.  Whether by luck or fate, she stays behind in her cozy home while her parents and her uncle, King Ferdinand, continue with the event.

But her parents don’t return.  Ben is at first surprised, since they always keep their word, and then begins to feel an unease that is proved true when news comes that the small party was ambushed.  The attackers killed King Ferdinand and Ben’s mother; her father is missing, presumed to be on the trail of the villains who performed this wretched deed.  And who else could the villains be except Drachensbett?

Queen Sophia immediately takes Ben under her wing, hoping to teach her how to be a proper princess.  Ben believes that her lessons are torture and does her best to remain the pampered girl she’s always been.  The disagreements between the two escalate, until Sophia finally locks Ben in the highest tower in the castle unless she is at lessons.

At first, Ben feels more miserable than ever; but what seems like a confinement turns out to be a freedom, for Ben discovers a hidden attic room with all the secrets of her mythical ancestors, the sorcerers who founded Montagne.  So while Ben is forced to go through the motions of trying to learn court etiquette during the day, at night she begins her true education.

Still, even as Ben secretly learns how to conjure fire and water, there is still the threat of Drachensbett hovering like a dismal cloud over Montagne.  How can war be successfully diverted?  Is marrying Ben off the correct solution, as Sophia thinks?  Or, since the legend of the sorcerer-rulers turned out to be true, can Ben use her wits and knowledge of myths to save her country?

Princess Ben is a fantastic YA fairy tale that absorbed my entire attention and left me glad that I’d picked it up.  While it’s a far cry from Dairy Queen (and, in my opinion, better), Catherine Murdock still created a memorable, independent heroine who is far from perfect, but who still manages to protect her country and become who she’s destined to be.  The setting is richly imagined, and I felt as if I were there, right alongside Ben as she suffered through dancing lessons and accidentally infiltrated the Drachensbett army.  The plotline, too, is rich and full of little details that later come into play.  All in all, Princess Ben rates a 5/5!

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