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The Ordinary Princess

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Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries . . . or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she's so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there . . . much to everyone's surprise . . . she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is!

"This delightful fairy tale is sure to please young romantics . . . Neither Kaye's princess nor her book should be considered ordinary." (School Library Journal)

112 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1980

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About the author

M.M. Kaye

30 books510 followers
M. M. Kaye (Mary Margaret) was born in India and spent her early childhood and much of her early-married life there. Her family ties with the country are strong: her grandfather, father, brother and husband all served the British Raj. After India's independence, her husband, Major-General Goff Hamilton of Queen Victoria's Own Corps of Guides (the famous Indian Army regiment featured in The Far Pavilions), joined the British Army and for the next nineteen years M. M. Kaye followed the drum to Kenya, Zanzibar, Egypt, Cyprus and Germany.
M. M. Kaye won worldwide fame for The Far Pavilions, which became a worldwide best-seller on publication in 1978. This was followed by Shadow of the Moon and Trade Wind. She also wrote and illustrated The Ordinary Princess, a children's book and authored a dozen detective novels, including Death in Kashmir and Death in Zanzibar. Her autobiography has been published in three volumes, collectively entitled Share of Summer: The Sun in the Morning, Golden Afternoon, and Enchanted Evening. In March 2003, M. M. Kaye was awarded the Colonel James Tod International Award by the Maharana Mewar Foundation of Udaipur, Rajasthan, for her "contribution of permanent value reflecting the spirit and values of Mewar".

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,550 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
September 19, 2019
This one's for all you fairy tale lovers out there. This is a straight-up, no-holds-barred fairy tale, with lovely princesses who wear crowns and beautiful gowns and genteelly toss golden balls to each other and never get dirty or sweaty —


. . . well, actually, this story is mostly about the youngest sister of those princesses, whose fairy godmother took one look at the list of all the gifts this princess received at her christening, like Charm and Courage and Grace and Wit, and promptly decreed, "This princess shall be Ordinary!" And so she was.


It turns out that most royalty and nobility want to marry a princess who's gorgeous, not one with straight, mousy brown hair and a turned-up, freckled nose. Even if she has Charm and Courage and Wit. The despairing parents of princess Amethyst (known as Amy) decide to import a dragon to terrorize the country and promise the hand of the (unseen) princess to whichever unsuspecting prince offs the dragon. Amy catches wind of the plan and decides it's a terrible scheme on so many levels. So she runs away to the forest.


I thought this little story would be more subversive than it was, but other than the twist of having an ordinary-looking and acting girl as its princess and main character, it pretty much follows the standard fairy tale line. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing!

It's a tale that's told well and charmingly and with a little humor. It's written on a middle grade level, but older readers who enjoy sweet fairy tales will still appreciate it. I would have totally adored this when I was younger, so older, more cynical me is cutting it a bit of slack. Plus the illustrations by the author are lovely.

Read this one when you're in the mood for a delightful and uncomplicated Happily Ever After. And make sure you get a copy with the author's illustrations.

Profile Image for Kristin.
6 reviews8 followers
June 2, 2007
"Violets are blue,
Rosemary's green,
When I am King,
You shall be Queen"

This was my absolute favorite book when I was a young girl. Amy, a smart, plucky, decidedly NOT classically beautiful princess, is given at birth the magical gift of being "ordinary". Years later, Amy reaches marriageable age. Since she isn't beautiful and vapid, her parents are quite worried whether any prince will have her, and there's some rash talk of giving her as the prize in a dragonslaying challenge. She doesn't like this idea, and so she steals away in the night.

To make ends meet, she works as a scullery maid in the kitchens of another kingdom. After a big occasion, she sneaks down to the kitchens to get some leftovers for her woodland friends (a squirrel and a raven) and meets Percy, a "man-of-all-work." They become friends and build a cottage in the woods. Unbeknownst to Amy, Percy is the prince of the kingdom--just as he has no idea that she is a runaway princess whose family is looking high and low for her.

Secret identities are revealed, Amy returns home, and Percy flabbergasts her family by showing up and asking for her hand in marriage. A great moral story for girls that shows that you can be yourself and be happy, and that it's okay not to look perfect.
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
785 reviews564 followers
August 13, 2017
I don't read many children's books, but I was drawn to this one by its very beautiful cover which was actually the work of the author. The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye The other illustrations in this edition were pleasant enough & done by Faith Jaques.

Princess Amethyst was expected to be given the same princessy gifts by the fairy godmothers as her six elder elder sisters - and she did indeed receive charm and wit and grace and courage. But then Crustacea, the most important fairy godmother arrived - & Crustacea was in A Very Bad Mood. She gave Amethyst the gift of ordinariness. Amy (as she is nicknamed) proves ordinariness doesn't mean dull and she shows her real gifts are the ones she finds within herself. & part of Amy's charm is that she isn't looking for gifts or repining that she doesn't have them.

My Puffin edition gives a recommended readers' age of 9-11. I'm not fond of recommended reading ages at the best of times & think this book in the 21st century will find more enthusiastic fans in the 7-9 group - or even younger if it is being read to them.

Really enjoyable & subtly feminist.
Profile Image for Dani.
40 reviews22 followers
March 18, 2008
This was one of my favorite books as a child. I recently reread it in a fit of nostalgia.

I was disappointed that the fantastic 1986 cover has been replaced by some hot mess picture of an elven girl in a green dress. What happened to the 80's princess with freckles, frizzy brown hair, and a ridiculously ornate purple dress?

Reading the book as an adult, I was so relieved to read an earnest fairy tale for once. So many "fairy tale princess books" on the market are hideous, smarmy, wink-wink tales that blend modern humor with the fairy tale world, while practically screaming to the reader, "Look how clever and fresh I am! I'm so witty that I'm appealing to both adults and children! I'm soaking in irony! Wowee!" I don't care if Ella Enchanted won a Newbery Honor, it's so ironic and proud of itself that it's slimy. I actually gagged in parts.

"The Ordinary Princess" has plenty of humor, but Kaye takes her world and her characters seriously enough that she makes you laugh with them, not at them. And thank god for an inventive fairy tale story that takes itself seriously while turning fairy tale conventions upside down. Amy is a strong heroine that everyone can love. She runs away to the woods and then applies for a job by herself - it's every kid's dream to be able to escape the stifling castle and be completely self-reliant, WHILE LIVING IN THE WOODS AND BEING AWESOME.

Yay for The Ordinary Princess! Yay for Princess Amy!

Lavender's Blue dilly dilly...
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,478 reviews939 followers
December 6, 2014

Long and long ago, when Oberon was king of the fairies, there reigned over the fair country of Phantasmorania a monarch who had six beautiful daughters.
They were in every way all that real princesses should be, for their hair was as yellow as the gold that is mined by the little gnomes in the mountains of the north, their eyes were as blue as the larkspurs in the palace gardens, and they had complexions like wild rose petals and cream.

This is not their story! Barbie clones with perfect hair and improbably slim waists are frankly boring. M M Kaye came to the same conclusion after re-reading some of her favorite classic children stories and set out to tell us about their seventh sister, Her Serene and Royal Highness the Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne of Phantasmorania, also known as Amy. Due to a slight misunderstanding and scheduling conflict at her christening, the last fairy godmother to bless her (the slightly cranky and unpredictable Crustacea) gave her the gift of Ordinariness, to the dismay of her royal parents and court attendants.


The story of Amy who may be not beautiful, but nevertheless enjoys her ordinary life, often evading from her luxurious chambers in a high tower to play in the forest where she makes friends with a raven, a squirell and some children from the village, is not only educational but also funny and charming, told in a simple language that pays homage to the classics (references to Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are quite obvious) while including enough modern and subversive elements to attract the children of the atomic age.

True, the splendid jewels and brocades of the kings and princes and barons were quite out of place on her homely little person, but the fairy gifts had been very useful, for though she was ordinary, she possessed health, wit, courage, charm, and cheerfulness. But because she was not beautiful, no one ever seemed to notice these other qualities, which is so often the way of the world.


Shying away from arrangements to get her married, and fearing to be a burden to her parents, Amy runs away from home, wandering through the forests in the company of her raven and squirell, until the real world with its material concerns intrudes:

- And now, said the Ordinary Princess, I would like some advice, Godmama. What do ordinary people do when their clothes wear out and they haven’t any more?
- Buy some new ones, child.
- But I haven’t any money.
- Then earn some. Go to work, said the old lady.
- Oh, work, said the Ordinary Princess thoughtfully, I’m not sure I should like that.
- Neither do most ordinary people – but they have to, said the old fairy.
- What sort of work? And where?
- Great barnacles! exclaimed Crustacea, how should I know? Use your own head, child. Think for yourself.


So Amy hires herself as the seventeenth kitchen maid in the kitchens of a neighboring kingdom, where her natural cheerfulness takes in stride backbreaking drudgery work for long hours and little pay with a song in her heart. By this time, most readers will be thoroughly enchanted with Amy, and will not mind the predictable turn of events when a similarly ordinary boy meets Amy and takes her off for weekend walks and picnics to her beloved forest (one of his names is Algernon, just like my avatar here). So the ending of this fairytale is less revolutionary than its beginning, but you’d have to be a real Grinch to grumble about it.

Lavender’s blue
Rosemary’s green
When you are King
I shall be Queen.


I wasn’t really surprised that M M Kaye could write such a funny and enchanting fairytale, after all her bestseller The Far Pavilions is just another kind of fairytale written for grown ups with beautiful Indian princesses, dashing British officers and opulent maharaj courts where wars and greed and prejudice cannot stand in the way of true love. What really surprised me was how good Kaye is as an illustrator, an aspect of her talent I was unaware of. All the images in the story are drawn by the author, and they are just as fun and charming as the text.

Recommended for reading to children and grandchildren,

For if a time ever comes when children turn up their noses at such things as fairy tales and Father Christmas and Halloween, the world will be a lot duller – and not nearly such a nice place to live in !

Profile Image for Mary Herceg.
138 reviews
June 29, 2020
October 2019 Reread:

I have still never read a book that's more delightful, lively, sweet, warm, bright, joyful, and heartwarming than this one. It's charming in every way, in the truest sense of the word. It's also whimsical and witty. It never fails to put a huge smile on my face, make me laugh, and fill my heart to bursting with warm and wonderful things.

I keep reading this darling novella again and again, and it will never get old. This month's reread was my second in less than six months. I can't believe I've only read it four times, and only read it for the first time three years ago. It feels like it's been part of my heart for my whole life. I waited too long to read it for the first time, even after I heard about it late, when I was a teenager. Don't wait to pick it up, like I did!

I shall try to sum up the basic premise, but every time I've tried to capture this lovely book in the past (including very recently), my words have failed to do it justice. I also tried not to spoil anything in my first review, but there will be basic spoilers in the next paragraph.

This is the tale of a young princess who's too ordinary in every way to appeal to any suitors. Her parents love her dearly, but they're horrified at the disgrace of a princess failing to marry. But the Ordinary Princess decides she's much happier living an ordinary, independent life, and she firmly resolves to never marry at all--though she's genuinely forced to run away to ensure that. Forging her own path, she finds adventure, friendship, and a life of her own making. And, unexpectedly, she meets a friend who's as ordinary as herself. . . .

The Ordinary Princess herself is a wonderful and endearing protagonist. I love her cleverness, resourcefulness, mischievous spirit, and determination. And I love each of her friends, especially a certain young man! I love their friendship and the way they relate to each other and have loads of fun together--it's so sweet! It's so obvious that they truly care about each other and want the best for each other.

I love everything else about the book too! My original review below sums up a few of those things.

This is a fairy tale, it's true--but it’s not a retelling of a traditional fairy tale, even though it pays homage to them and pokes fun at them. Rather, it's an original fairy tale made up by the author--she purposefully included some aspects of original tales and contradicted others, such as making her princess ordinary instead of willowy and blonde. This tale does feature at least one fairy--but not the type of fairy you’d expect. And there is a titular princess--but as the title suggests, the princess is not the usual type of princess, either.

This was published as a children's book, but it has just as much to offer for adults. It can truly be enjoyed just as much by teens, adults, or anyone of any age. Some aspects of the book are targeted more at older people, such as the humor and , but will also delight even the youngest child.

The Ordinary Princess will delight readers of all ages who love fantasy, fairy tales, or children's books for any age--or those who simply love sweet stories with heart, humor, and unique and lively characters.

March 2018 Review:

The Ordinary Princess is one of the sweetest books I have ever had the immense pleasure of reading. Indeed, I have never read a sweeter book! There's such a blissful, joyful, cozy, warm, and heartfelt feeling that comes packed into this little book. It's utterly delightful, and I read it each time with a huge, beaming grin on my face. It's also humorous - I laughed out loud often throughout!

The characters are wonderful and so, so sweet. I love that the main character is a princess yet ordinary, sensible, and practical. She's so sweet. A certain important friend of hers is just as sweet and wonderful, a person whom I adore for many reasons. And I love the princess's parents and each of the other characters in turn. They're all so vivid and sweet and funny!

The settings are colorful and beautiful, and the descriptions allow me to see each flower, tree, and castle. The forest is especially gorgeous, and I wish I could spend an afternoon there. The accompanying illustrations by the author are adorable, and they fit the book perfectly.

I love the satirical commentary on princesses, princes, royalty, fairy tales, and court customs. It's hilarious! The author makes fun of the common fairy tale cliches and turns them on their heads, and I love it.

Also, I adore the author's perfect use of the "Lavender's Blue" song, which was interwoven perfectly and very meaningful.

I wish I had read or discovered this book sooner - and obeyed the recommendation from a dear friend earlier! But I'm just glad I did read it when I did, even if it wasn't till my late teens. I spent a blissful afternoon under the trees and sunshine immersing myself in the story, and I read it in one sitting, which I never, ever do! I've been greatly looking forward to re-reading it ever since I read it the first time, and it was wonderful to do so just now. Since my first read, I've also been anticipating someday reading it to my little sister, which may not be far off now - and I can't wait! It will be such a fun read-aloud, and I know she'll love it just much as I do - perhaps even more as she grows older.

I highly recommend this book to people of all ages - it can be enjoyed equally by children and adults who delight in a sweet story.
Profile Image for Allison Tebo.
Author 17 books321 followers
March 27, 2021
From the authors note at the very beginning I was pulled into the most deliciously whimsical book. Five gloriously, shining stars for this amazing book (bumped it up one)– it is one of the sweetest stories I have read in a long time with a beautiful style, delightful characters, and a sweet and funny message. The beautiful and amazing illustrations are also absolutely charming. This was the perfect bedtime reading - so soothingly and fun.

What a joy fairy tales are! What a sadly overlooked and underrated slice of goodness.

I can't wait to buy my own copy - this is a book to be petted, cherished and share.
Profile Image for ♛Tash.
223 reviews211 followers
December 29, 2015

Mind you folks that this is straight up fairytale released in the 80's , and the target demographic are tweens, so the writing is more classic children's book than YA. I love this precious book nonetheless. This is a story of Princess Amy of Phantasmorania, who has mousy brown hair and a freckled nose, because she was gifted with ordinariness at birth (obviously,her fairy godmother was drunk). .

Tween girls, and even boys, need to read this charming tale and the message it conveys. One, that you can be your own kind of beautiful and the people who matter will see that beauty.

Whaaattt? A fairy tale about ordinary looking people? GIMMMMEEEEEEEEE!

I am so sick and tired of ravishing beauties and hot as fuck playboy millionaires getting all the fantastic adventures and mistaken identities! :P
Profile Image for Luisa Knight.
2,727 reviews683 followers
November 7, 2022
Here's a short and sweet little story!

Some people just never learn. But does anyone listen to the King when he warns them about inviting fairy godmothers to baby christenings? "You may have forgotten what happened to my great-great-great-grandmother, but I have not. Had to sleep for a hundred years, poor girl, and the entire court with her, and all because of some silly fairy-business at the christening."

The Queen assures him, though, that they have not left off or forgotten a single fairy on the invitation list. What could go wrong? And then Fairy Crustacea arrives ... and her gift brings utter dismay to the King and Queen! Their child is to be ... ordinary??

A sweet tale with memorable characters that will nicely satisfy that craving for a fun, fairy-tale story!

Ages: 6 - 14

Cleanliness: fairy tale magic.

**Like my reviews? Then you should follow me! Because I have hundreds more just like this one. With each review, I provide a Cleanliness Report, mentioning any objectionable content I come across so that parents and/or conscientious readers (like me) can determine beforehand whether they want to read a book or not. Content surprises are super annoying, especially when you’re 100+ pages in, so here’s my attempt to help you avoid that!

So Follow or Friend me here on GoodReads! And be sure to check out my bio page to learn a little about me and the Picture Book/Chapter Book Calendars I sell on Etsy!
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 29 books5,609 followers
March 29, 2014
As delightful as I remembered! The kids really liked it, too! This is sort of a rare thing these days, in that it's a romance for children. Princess Amy's age is never talked about, but the entire book she's trying to dodge a horrible arranged marriage, and falls in love on her own. Sweet and charming, and I'd forgotten what a hilarious satire it is of classic fairy tales.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,319 reviews1,611 followers
December 16, 2015
Oh my goodness, this was such a delightful book! I'm glad that I picked it up - sometimes it's easy to discount these kinds of books, but this one is a perfect example of why it's silly to do so.

Princess Amy is the seventh daughter of King Hulderbrand and Queen Rhodesia. All throughout history, the seventh daughter has been the most beautiful, the most extraordinary princess of them all - but not this time. This time, the most powerful Fairy, Crustacea, is out of patience when she arrives, delayed by traffic, at the christening of little baby Amy - and gives her the gift of ordinary. Of course this is a travesty and a tragedy to the royal court, and a never-ending source of shame and embarrassment to the King and Queen - but Amy is perfectly happy to be herself and not stiffly proper and bored.

When she is of an age to marry, and her suitors have all seen her and then just remembered urgent appointments that they had forgotten, her father decides to take matters into his own hands (well, at the advice of his council), and endeavors to hire a dragon to lay waste to the kingdom in the hopes that some enterprising young prince will come to slay it in return for the princess's hand. Amy catches wind of this plot, and wants no part of it, so she runs away to seek her own fortune.

I loved the wit and the humor in this story. I found myself giggling at the descriptions of the royalty and the extremes that they will go to to get their way. I also really loved Peregrine, the man-of-all-work that Amy meets. He is such a sweet and honest person, and accepts Amy for who she really is, rather than what she looks like. I have to say that in this children's book, I found myself thinking that the romance was sweeter and more moving than in some of the adult romance novels I've read.

This is definitely a feel-good keeper of a book. I loved the message that no matter who you are, or where you come from, being yourself will bring you happiness.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,747 reviews1,213 followers
December 26, 2007
Charming book. This would have been one of my favorite books had I read it as a kid. I found it both enchanting and fun to read, reading it for the first time as an adult. A must read for kids & adults, especially young girls & their parents. Love the twist on the standard fairy tale. The illustrations by the author are lovely.

I’ll be giving this as a gift to several little girls.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,556 reviews395 followers
December 20, 2019
2019 Review-5 Stars
I mean, her name is Princess Amy! What more could you want?
But also the book held up remarkably well and I positively adore this story. So cute. So wholesome.

Early Review-4 Stars
A sweet simple fairy tale!
Profile Image for Melody Schwarting.
1,402 reviews81 followers
February 20, 2023
I'm not sure there's an absolutely perfect middle-grade book in the world, but if there were, this would be it.

Kaye's delightful introduction explains that she wrote this under an apple tree in her childhood, inspired by the fairy books of Andrew Lang. She also illustrated it herself. The love for the genre and gentle humor made the whole thing perfectly pleasant to read. The naming conventions reminded me of The Phantom Tollbooth. And because it's not a retelling of any one fairy tale, it lacks the dark undercurrent present in historical fairy and folk tales.

The Ordinary Princess is a short, delightful read with wonderful illustrations, sure to please those who never lost their childhood love for fairy tales.
Profile Image for Deborah O'Carroll.
462 reviews94 followers
February 8, 2017
First read: 4/16/2015

AAAAHHH I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH. Cute, sweet, hilarious, perfect... A whimsical, beautiful, original fairytale.

Definitely a favorite! I want to reread it already. Also the illustrations are absolutely fabulous.

I loved the plot, the humor, the total fairytale-feel, the Englishness, the Ordinary Princess herself, and of course Peregrine. How it all turned out was just awesome.

I. Adored. This. Book. <3

Re-Read: 2/26/2016

I first read The Ordinary Princess in April last year, and fell in love with it instantly. <3 I was so tempted to reread it the moment I finished it, but refrained… and now this was a perfect chance to pick it up again.

So last night I did, and devoured it all over again in an hour and a half. It’s a short read, but oh so lovely!

How can I even DESCRIBE it? It’s probably my favorite little fairytale-esque story ever. Yes, it’s THAT good.

It just has this perfect fairytale feel — it’s like an original fairytale with some nods to a few classic ones, such as starting out with a Sleeping Beauty-esque christening with fairy gifts etc. (The king even makes a reference to his great-great-something-grandmother, who evidently WAS Sleeping Beauty! Isn’t that perfect? <3) And something like the song Cinderella sings in the new Cinderella movie, and a few other things.

It has all the classic fairytale feel, and yet it’s a totally original fairytale, turning many of the old plot devices on their heads! To say much more would be to spoil the marvelous tale, but be assured that whether you like new or old tales, it will satisfy you either way.

In the author’s note, she says she wrote it one spring in an apple orchard in blossom in Kent, England, and that it practically wrote itself. All of this makes perfect sense. It’s exactly the sort of beautiful little tale that would be perfect to be made in a blooming apple orchard in England! It just FEELS like that.

It has this fabulous writing style, like many old fairytales and yet even better somehow, which is simultaneously beautiful and hilarious (don’t ask how. It just is). I don’t even know how the author did it, but it just has this perfect FEEL. There’s not a single thing I dislike about it.

And the illustrations!! It was also illustrated by the author, and they’re just the most darling, beautiful, yet simplistic and perfect drawings ever! <3 They perfectly capture these lovely medieval fairytale kingdoms and characters. (It’s just the sort of setting I love the most in books!)

Then the characters, all of whom are fabulous. Even the side characters have a lot of spirit to them, from the myriad councilors and ministers of two different kingdoms, to the king and queen, to the adorable animal friends of Amy, a red squirrel (one Mr Pemberthy) and a crow (Peter Aurelious), to the fairy Crustacea, the old fairy of the waters with hornrimmed spectacles who tends to drip and be somewhat cranky when she’s held up in traffic trying to reach the christening. (Seriously, the whole thing is fabulous like that.)

The heroine, (Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne; a.k.a. “Amy”), the Ordinary Princess herself, is quite fun, and then the eventual hero, Peregrine! Oh my goodness, Peregrine was so wonderful! His lines, so British and fantastic, and only he would be met eating ice cream in the middle of the night in the midst of the leftovers of a banquet! So much wonderful. And they two of them together are just perfect and sweet and funny. I love them so much. <3

The story itself is simply a rollick. The perfect fairytale mix of whimsical, fun, lovely, and slightly worried hoping everything will turn out all right, but being fairly sure it will, with a few twists which are absolutely perfect. (I know I keep using that word, but I will not apologize — I can’t think of a better one.)

The writing, style, setting, humor, sweetness, illustrations, characters, story, dialog — it’s just all so fantabulous, I can’t get over it!! *flails around*

I simply can’t describe how perfect it is, and the only thing for it is for you to read it yourself.

If you love fairytales new and old, fun little books, a touch of adorable sweet romance, a bit of “English” feeling and wonderful dialog and humor, and just an all around lovely read, you simply MUST read The Ordinary Princess! It’s sweet, adorable, lovely, gorgeous, hilarious, and just all-around PERFECT.
Profile Image for Courtney Johnston.
379 reviews149 followers
December 1, 2012
Last night I was so tired that I found myself crying for pretty much no reason. Just those small soft tears that come out and surprise you. I'm five weeks into the job of my life (so far, anyway) and I was exhausted. And scanning my shelves for something soothing to take to bed - something that would both settle my mind and make me happy - I settled on 'The Ordinary Princess'.

I remember borrowing and borrowing this book from my primary school library; I can see even now the shelf it sat on. Years ago I found a copy for sale at Arty Bees for $4, with the same cover - mousy-haired, tip-tilted-nosed Princess Amy in her absurdly ornate purple gown, fingers wistfully entwined behind her back. (The modern cover looks awful to my nostalgic eyes - far too elven.)

M.M. Kaye's gently subversive fairytale came slightly before the fashion for so-ironic-it-hurts revisions of these narratives (contrast its softer tone to that of 'The Princess Bride'). There's an element of adult humour in it. but it's definitely still aimed at child readers.

Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne is the seventh daughter of the King and Queen of Phantasmorania. Traditionally, seventh daughters are the most blessed, and baby Amethyst is as petal-skinned and pacific as can be. Against her father's better judgement ('You are all going to tell me that it is the custom of our kingdom to invite all fairies to the christening of a seventh daughter. You have already said it at least seven times, and I still say that it's RASH!') along with the dignitaries all the fairies are invited to the Princess's christening. The Princess receives gifts and nice qualities in spades - Wit, Charm, Courage, Charm - and then the powerful Crustacea turns up, delayed by traffic and in a bit of a mood. Crustacea assesses the situation and decides to give the child 'something that will probably bring more happiness than all these fal-lals and fripperies put together' - the gift of ordinariness.

The gift takes hold immediately - the Princess's pink and white face screws up into something resembling a squashed tomato, and she starts to shriek. From this point on, the Princess becomes steadily more ordinary: her nose tips up, her freckles pop out, her golden curls turn into a mousy bob. Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne turns into Amy:

She grew up as gawky as possible, with a distressing habit of standing with her feet apart and her hands behind her back, and hair of a colour that not even a court poet could describe as anything but just plain mouse. But though she proved every day how strong the old Fairy Crustacea's magic had been, her other christening gifts were not entirely wasted.

True, the splendid jewels and brocades of the kings and princes and barons were quite out of place on her homely little person, but the fairy gifts had been very useful, for though she was ordinary, she possessed health, wit, charm and cheerfulness. But because she was not beautiful, no one ever seemed to notice these other qualities, which is so often the the way of the world. Not that it ever worried the Ordinary Princess.

Rather than satisfy herself tossing about a golden ball in the garden with her six perfect sisters, Amy turns into a hidden rebel. After her nurse puts her to bed each night, she slips out her tower window, clambers down the wisteria, and disappears into the Faraway Forest, to roam at will. And she grows up happy and well-adjusted - but unmarriable. Princes and Dukes and Barons visit Phantasmorania to woo the legendary seventh daughter - then make a hurried escape the day after arriving, shocked into leaving by Amy's ordinariness. (Okay - writing this up, it sounds like prettiness is the be all and end all of life. And that's not the message of the book ... much.) In desperation, one of the courtiers comes up with a scheme to hire a dragon to lay waste to the countryside, drawing in suitor-heroes who, in a rush of bravado, will suddenly find themselves wed to the Ordinary Princess.

Amy, when she discovers the plot, takes life into her own hands. She swops a grand gown for a humble frock, scampers down the wisteria, and heads off to the Faraway Forest (leaving behind an explanatory note for her parents, because she's thoughtful like that).

From here the story unfolds, as Amy enters further and further into real life: the Forest is lovely but new clothes don't grow on trees, and she ends up having to take a job as 14th assistant kitchen-maid at the castle in Amber. She meets a nice young footman and ... well, therein lies the twist and the charm, and I'll leave that up to you to discover, if you so wish.

Perhaps a little too much fuss is made of Amy's physical ordinariness for me to be able to enjoy this book quite as I used to (as a child who never felt pretty though, boy, did I empathise first with Amy at primary school then Cassandra Mortmain with her 'plain, rather clever' face during high school). But one thing that still appealed just as much as it did when I was 9 or 10 was Kaye's ability to write lusciously enjoyable lists:

In the royal kitchens two hundred and twenty cooks, four hundred scullions, as many serving-men and five hundred kitchen-maids worked like mad, baking cakes and pies and pastries. They stuffed swans and peacocks and boars' heads, and made wonderful sweets - marzipan trees hung with crystallised cherries, and castles and dragons and great ships of sugar candy. Five cooks from Italy worked on the christening cake, which was decorated with hundreds of sugar bells and crystallised roses, and was so tall that they had to stand on silver step-ladders to ice it.

The next is a little bit of spoiler, but I re-read it with such pleasure early this morning that I want to add it here. The chances that any of the three of you that read these things might read this book are so vanishingly slim that I may as well indulge myself.

The Ordinary Princess smiled a little secret smile to herself and said: 'Tell me about princesses, Perry.'

'Well, first of all, they are very beautiful,' said Peregrine, leaning back against a tree-trunk and ticking off the points on his fingers. 'Then secondly and thirdly and fourthly, they all have long golden hair, and blue eyes, and the most lovely complexions. Fifthly and sixthly, they are graceful and accomplished. Seventhly, they have names like Persephone and Sapphire and Roxanne. And lastly,' said Peregrine, running out of fingers, 'they are all excessively proper and extremely dull ... except when they are make-believe princesses who are really kitchen-maids!'
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
358 reviews24 followers
March 16, 2023
Lavender's blue,
Rosemary's green,
When you are King,
I shall be Queen

(contrary to Disney's 2019 Cinderella, lavender is not green)

Meet Her Serene and Royal Highness Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne. Also known as Amy.

She may have been given the gift of Ordinariness (and also Wit, Charm, and Courage, to name a few), but Amy exhibits the extraordinary (in a princess, at least) characteristics of resourcefulness, stubbornness, and willingness to work. Not to mention, Amy possesses an Actual Brain, in contrast to her six sisters, who go about playing with a golden ball (they don't even lose it in a pool to have it rescued by a talking frog!) and embroidering tapestry.

This is such a delightful book. It's short, coming in at under 150 pages, which makes it an easy (and worthwhile) read. The Ordinary Princess would make such a lovely readaloud for small girls. The author, in her foreword, mentions a deep and abiding love for fairy tales such as Andrew Lang's [insert literally any color of the rainbow here] fairy books. I also grew up on Andrew Lang and the Brothers Grimm; that made this book even better. It's a wonderful nod to fairy tales as a whole.

Another middle-grade-should-be-classic that I missed reading as a preteen.
Profile Image for Talltree.
2,081 reviews25 followers
November 28, 2015
Quaint, witty and adorable fairy tale romance novella about an Ordinary but very likeable princess and how she finds her HEA. Would have give it 5 stars if only it wasn't a clean romance. 4.25 stars!
Profile Image for Sarah Marie.
1,795 reviews226 followers
November 14, 2019
4 stars. This was a sweet and interesting take on challenging the concept of the beautiful fairy tale princess. Although, is she really ordinary if she has domesticated a squirrel and a cow to follow her around as pets? Review to come.
Profile Image for Elsabet.
87 reviews
November 27, 2019
This was the sweetest story. It's very short, but that's just fine, and it has an innocence that is so hard to find these days.

Amy is such an endearing character. You sympathize with her at once (because so few off us are drop dead gorgeous) and wish her the best.

I first read this when I was eight, and I loved it. I read it again when I was fifteen, and discovered that I loved it even more than my eight-year-old counterpart did. And I still love it. That is probably the best way to tell if a book is good: if you loved it when you were a child, and still love it when you've grown (at least until you've discovered your set literary tastes), you have a keeper. I absolutely recommend this if you need a little something to brighten your day. It's a quick read, it probably won't take more than an hour, but it will make things seem brighter.

Some of my favorite elements were Mr. Pemberthy (the squirrel) and Peter Aurelious (the crow). I always wanted a pet squirrel when I was little!

And the "You can't spank a princess," scene was absolutely precious.
Profile Image for Emma Clifton.
Author 2 books36 followers
March 19, 2016
What a delightful and sweet little book! I do love epic stories with action and danger and adventure, but now and then, I need something that's just happy and adorable. This book is a perfect spring read!
Profile Image for TheBookSmugglers.
669 reviews1,983 followers
November 22, 2012
Originally reviewed on The Book Smugglers

Once upon a time, there was a faraway kingdom called Phantasmorania, ruled by a benevolent King and Queen. This happy royal couple was also blessed with the birth of six beautiful daughters, each princess more beautiful than the last, with rippling blonde hair, jewel blue eyes, and the fairest complexions of palest cream. And, each princess was given the name of a precious stone - Diamond, Opal, Emerald, Sapphire, Crystal, and Pearl. One fine day, the royal cannon boomed out twenty times, signifying the birth of a seventh princess, much to the delight of the townspeople, for it was common knowledge that the seventh princess was a good omen, and destined to be the most beautiful of them all.

To celebrate the birth of their seventh child, the King and Queen decided to throw a grand celebration, and invited all of the fairies of the land in the hopes that they would bestow delightful and useful presents on their youngest child. And bestow these fine gifts the fairies did - Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne was given Charm and Wit and Grace and Courage, and many other similar traits besides, heaped on her already quite beauteous and sweet-tempered head of gold curls. But then, the most powerful fairy god-mother in the land - the prickly older fairy Crustacea with a notorious temper - bestowed her final gift on young Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne:
"Wit, Charm, Courage, Health, Wisdom, Grace...Good gracious, poor child! Well, thank goodness my magic is stronger than anyone else's. She raised her twisty coral stick and waved it three times over the cradle of the seventh princess. "My child," said the Fairy Crustacea, "I am going to give you something that will probably bring you more happiness than all these fal-lals and fripperies put together. You shall be Ordinary!"

And with that parting gift, Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne became quite Oridnary indeed. Her angelic disposition immediately became that of a normal cranky baby, her golden curls darkened and straightened, her complexion turned mottled and then freckled. As the years passed, she simply became known as Princess Amy - Ordinary, but happy, and far more interested in escaping to the woods to play than in the tedious rigors of court life, embroidering, or husband-finding. When all of Amy's sisters have been married off, however, and the princely prospects for the very Ordinary Amy look slim, her parents decide to resort to drastic measures to trick a prince into marrying the last daughter (the good old throw her in an isolated tower protected by a dragon scheme). Rather than endure that nonsense, Amy decides to run away - and embarks on an adventure that will lead to another kingdom, where she will find happiness, hard work, and someone who may be just as wonderfully Ordinary as she.

Originally published in 1980, The Ordinary Princess is a charming, delightful little middle grade book. Taking the very familiar tropes of fairy tales - the beautiful princesses with hair of spun gold and eyes of sky blue, gifted with all the riches and graces in the land - and gives them a very overt twist. Kaye poses a very interesting question in The Ordinary Princess, because no matter how beautiful these traditional fairy tale princesses may be, wouldn't their lives be so very boring? How dull and unfulfilling would it be to be have everything given to you, to be forced into always acting properly and looking beautiful? With heroine Princess Amy - who is still quite gifted with Grace and Health and Wit and all those other good things, mind you - we see how beauty can be overrated, and that happiness comes from the choices one makes and not what one looks like. While the message is hardly subtle, it's an important one and one that is done well in this delightful book.

There is a very linear, predictable nature to this story - and in that way it is in fact a perfect fairy tale. I'm reminded of Philip Pullman's own words in Tales from the Brothers Grimm regarding the essential components of a great fairy tale: the story must move quickly and told in an economy of words that is evocative, winsome, and most importantly brief. Characters do not need to be deeply nuanced or layered, and actions like falling in love are simple milestones that happen quickly, without elaboration or explanation. And in a book that is so clearly paying homage to the traditional folk tale, The Ordinary Princess certainly excels, telling a very different variation of a familiar princess story while adhering to the key ingredients that make a fairy tale successful. And that, dear readers, is thanks to voice. The most impressive and delightful thing about The Ordinary Princess is its narrative skill with words and that storyteller's voice - there is humor aplenty, charm in abundance, as well as the proper fairy tale-ish type of cadence and style. In under 150 pages? This is no small feat, but one that M.M. Kaye has accomplished so convincingly.

It's easy for me to see why this particular book is so beloved; for even if the elements are simple and familiar, sometimes the simple and familiar are all you need. Definitely recommended for anyone looking for a quick, refreshingly sweet and fun read.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 40 books398 followers
April 12, 2022
This was a fun, sweet story. I'm so glad my library had it. Yes, it had fairies and a bit of magic, but the sweetness of the story made up for that for me.
Profile Image for Kellyn Roth.
Author 24 books898 followers
February 7, 2017
After reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, my mother and I decided to read this together because we needed something a little lighter. This is a sweet fairy tale in the style of all the Brothers Grimm stories, very light and amusing.

It's suitable for all ages with no content to speak of. The characters are all very amusing (and perhaps a little more well-developed than the ones in other fairytales). I especially like Amy and Peregrine and the King of Phantasmorania (or however you spell that crazy name!). We were able to read a section every night (although, of course, we didn't get around to reading every night with [insert multiple distractions]). Brevity is sometimes very nice for a change, and it was in this case.

I did find the ending and her meeting of Peregrine and all that a little cliché, though. It kinda surprised me, though, I suppose as it was a lot more like any old fairytale ... and the rest of the book hadn't been.

I'd recommend The Ordinary Princess to anyone who enjoys light fantasy, fairytales, princesses and princes (no matter how ordinary they may be), humor, and neat (but brief) descriptions.

~Kellyn Roth, Reveries Reviews
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,213 reviews551 followers
October 22, 2017
It's cute and sweet, with a worthy premise. It was released in the 1980's with a YA designation for teens?? To me, it would be preteen audience fare, even in that era.

Some of the names and the fairy tale grandiose designations for some of the under characters! I rather think this dates the whole and in an age tech ravaged children might not fly quite on the same path intended to this frolic. Maybe I'm wrong but it is SO simple a tale that the cutesy-cutesy names might seem almost babyish to the majority currently.

The story line is fun and would be a short story length read for a 9 year old's challenge? About that age and probably much more liked by those who hold the rather traditional gender values, I would think. Amy works but as a kitchen maid. Amy certainly doesn't become a coal heaver.
Profile Image for Ekaterina.
138 reviews48 followers
June 22, 2016
This is such a cute and lovely book! This book is one of my favorite books because every time I read the book, I know that I will feel happy reading the book. I also love how the book is like a breath of fresh air. It's like the original fairy tales, but it is fun and light. It isn't dark like some fairy tales.
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