Release Date: March 18, 2008
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Benevolence is not your typical princess and Princess Ben is certainly not your typical fairy tale. With her parents lost to unknown assassins, Princess Ben ends up under the thumb of the conniving Queen Sophia, who is intent on marrying her off to the first available "specimen of imbecilic manhood." 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 facing the castle and indeed the entire country. Can Princess Ben save her kingdom from annihilation and herself from permanent enslavement?
Oh just get to it already!
I could have so easily loved Princess Ben. All of the elements I usually adore were there for me: A PRINCESS (that gets the book points right there), a hate-turned-love romance, magic!, and a sprinkling of nods to various fairy tales. What's not to love?
Apparently, Ben. You're not supposed to like Ben all that much in the beginning because this is one of those stories where the character grows to become someone better than who she started out as.
Again, normally I love that--but not when she's unlikable for 3/4 of the book! Her turn around in the final quarter was so rapid that I really had a hard time buying it.
How can a book with magical sparkly light swirls on the cover be boring???
This all could have been much improved had the first 3/4 been more tightly written. And maybe narrated differently. The whole story is told with Ben's first person narration, but she's telling it as an old woman looking back on her life. I found her voice to be stuffy, dull, and lending very little excitement to the tale.
Not only was Ben annoying me, but I was also so bored. When Ben finally started learning magic I thought, "Oh good, magic will make it all better!" but that didn't happen. Honestly, I'm sort of in shock. Magic has never failed me like this before. But for whatever reason, reading along as Ben learned how to conjure water and fire (and spend an equal amount of time cleaning) was about as interesting to me as watching grass grow.
Which is to say, NOT interesting. I'm still confused, but I think part of the reason this was so boring was because Ben was completely alone during all of these lessons. She didn't have an old wizard or a sweet witch or a handsom anyone to teach her, mock her, or provide witty banter with her. It was just Ben.
Also, there was no conflict or distinct experiences between her lessons. It was always just, "Open book, read spell, try spell, master spell!" Sometimes she would say the equivalent to, "I practiced for months" between "try" and "master" but that isn't very exciting either.
Heroine replacement, please?
Ben spends the first 3/4 of the book as a sulky, self-absorbed, sheltered little girl with no regard for the kingdom she will inherit and zero social skills.
And I don't mean she's shy. I mean she's rude. Boorish, even.
I would have thought I might have sympathized and related to Ben a little bit over her tendency to over-eat. Because, you know, I like food too, so we have that in common.
But, jeez, can you say obsessed? (Well, ok, to be fair, yes, she kind of is. Ben doesn't just like eating, she eats as a way of coping with stress and the loss of her parents). Ben is significatly overweight and focuses much of her energy on stealing food after her guardian puts her on a diet. Instead of being sympathetic, Ben came across as a self-indulgent whiner.
Besides, couldn't she have done something more interesting with her magic than learn how to sneak into the kitchen at night?? She found secret passageways for crying out loud, and all she could think of to do with them was steal food?! I was practically in the depths of despair over such a tragedy of missed opportunities.
By the time she became someone I *might* consider as a lunch table companion, I'd already spent way too much time wishing she'd bite it (and I don't mean food).
But I really could have loved this book
If I forget about Ben and all the boring parts there's actually a pretty awesome story here. It's exciting and adventurous and even reminds me of Gail Carson Levine with both authors' inventive takes on magic and creatures. I also really liked the world building and I pretty much loved--or was at least interested in reading about--every character (with the exception, of course, of Ben. Though even Ben got a lot better in the final quarter).
The mystery of Ben's missing father was also creatively written with enough suspicion thrown around that I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. And there was even a scene that made me laugh out loud! (For those who have read Princess Ben already: mud). Plus, it was fun seeing all the different fairy tales woven into the story.
I'm very glad I read Pica's review or I probably would have DNF-ed during part 1. Pica echoed my own lack of enthuasiasm with the beginning of the book, so I decided to keep reading because she assured me it would get better. And she was right!
Even with all my complaints, I'm still happy I read Princess Ben and had the experience of the story (even if I didn't love the storytelling). I'll probably even re-read it now that I know which parts to skip over to get to the good stuff (part 1-mostly skip, part 2-skip a little, part 3-don't skip much, part 4- no skipping).
Princess Ben is a standalone.
Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key
Do you have any questions about Princess Ben that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!
Feel free to ask in the comments!
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