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#85 Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Fifteen-year-old Benevolence (Ben for short) is not your typical princess. She's lazy, gluttonous, and has no patience for needlework, dance, or polite conversation. But when her mother dies and her father disappears, her aunt (the new Queen of Montagne) is put in charge of Ben's royal education. When Ben rebels, she is locked in a tower where she locates a secret passage to a hidden room. In this room, she finds a book that teaches her magic. Ben has no idea that the skills she learns here will eventually aid her in saving Montagne.

I recently earned a job in a small town library and have decided to acquaint myself with it's collection so I can better serve customers. I chose Princess Ben due to the fact that it has been honored by the Maine Student Book Awards. In many ways, I can see why this book was honored. Here, Catherine Gilbert Murdock takes familiar plot points from various fairy tales (with emphasis on Sleeping Beauty), and gives us an original story. The characterization found in this novel is impressively complex. I was surprised when I discovered that my opinions of most of the main characters changed dramatically as the book progressed. This is not a book where a typical feisty princess takes down an two-dimensionally evil adult, and I really appreciated that. My favorite part of the novel would have to be the sections where Ben teaches herself magic, as I really enjoy books that focus on magical education.

At the same time, there are a few places where this book does come up short for me. The novel starts off a little on the slow side, but picks up during the second section. For most of the book, I had no issues with pacing, although it's resolution actually felt a bit rushed to me. This was particularly obvious with the way the romantic storyline was resolved. In fact, my biggest disappointment with Princess Ben was the romance, which really needed more fleshing out. I was happy to see that Ben was not a typical fantasy heroine, but I have to admit that there were some instances where I was really annoyed by her immaturity and selfishness. Murdock skillfully negates much of this frustration by having Ben tell this story as an older, more mature character, but for most of the book, Ben herself is not all that likable. I also felt at times as if the fairy tale elements were rather randomly inserted, and not used to their fullest potential. As a result of these issues, there were times where the book frustrated me.

Ultimately, although I had certain issues with Princess Ben, I ended up liking it on a whole. I do think it has possible appeal for for tween girls who enjoy novels by Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine.

Rating: three and a half stars
Length: 344 pages
Source: Readfield Community Library
Similar Books: Rapunzel's Revenge and Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, or Ella Enchanted and Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (my review)
Other books I've read by this author: this is my first

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