Princess Ben is a coming-of-age story about a pudgy, spoiled princess who learns magic, the art of ruling, and the secrets behind her country’s history.
When Ben learns of her parents’ death, she’s so profoundly crushed that she almost doesn’t notice that her uncle, the king, died as well. Everyone assumes that these three members of the royal family died in an attack from assassins from Drachensbett, the treacherous, greedy country next door. Montagne is now ruled by Queen Sophia, the beautiful (and childless) wife of its murdered king. Its heiress is Princess Benevolence, who knows nothing of the court, diplomacy, or manners. Queen Sophia forcibly takes Ben under her wing. She cruelly forces Ben to learn the basics of queendom through strictly enforced portion control, exhaustive etiquette classes, sarcasm, and verbal beat-downs. She eventually makes Ben live in a barren, lonely tower above the queen’s own lushly appointed chambers. This last is actually a mixed blessing. It’s in this tower that Ben learns she has the ability to do magic.
What follows is a story combining (and subverting) several conventional fairy tale tropes. There’s dragons, true love, a sleeping princess, magical first kisses, an evil stepmother, and flying broomsticks. There’s also a lot of growing up.
Things I liked:
1. You’ll be pleased to know that Ben does NOT lose her chub. She slims down a little (starvation when a prisoner of war will do that to you) but she remains, in her own words, the kind of princess that “no man could fit his hands around.” She’s actually pretty comfortable with that; her weight is a problem for other people, not her. Plus, since she’s chubby and flat-chested, when she’s taken prisoner by the evil Drachensbett, they don’t immediately realize she’s a girl, which saves her life.
2. Queen Sophia is a diva. By this, I mean that she is the female version of a hustler. She’s a brilliant strategist, completely devoted to doing what she thinks is best for her country, and demonstrates that there’s more to being a queen than giving birth to an heir. I loved her. She’s a surprisingly sympathetic evil stepmother.
3. The tone. While Princess Ben is told in the first person, it’s actually narrated by Ben as an adult. She gives a wry edge to her teenage angst, and is simply hilarious. Also, the little vocal idiosyncrasies in the dialogue reflect the author’s confidence in the conventions of fairy tale vernacular.