JM's Reviews > Princess Ben

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
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's review
Apr 21, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: ya, ya-specfic, setting-secondary-world

** spoiler alert ** YA alternate-world fantasy. Chubby Princess Benevolence had a scrappy, indulged childhood: she was heir to the throne, but she was the daughter of only the king's younger brother, and therefore didn't actually have much to do with the court. When her parents are killed and Ben falls into the custody of her pitiless aunt the queen, she is entirely unequipped to deal with the strict and interminable lessons in courtesy, the tiny portions of ladylike food her aunt allows her, or, when relations with her aunt reach an impasse, her imprisonment in a bare tower room for everything but meals. But that little stone room has a secret, and soon Ben is learning magic from on an old and dusty book - magic that gets her in worse trouble than she's ever been in, but might also allow her to save her kingdom from the danger besetting it.

For most of the length of this, I thought it was a fun read - not great, but inoffensive and nice, in a not-quite-fairy-tale-themed way. My only real complaint was with the narrative voice: the frame is that the heroine is recounting these events as an old woman, and the voice really did feel like an old woman's. Which is a valid style, but not what you expect from YA, especially given the very contemporary-YA-ish cover.

I finished it with some niggling annoyance at a couple of character choices, but still with the impression that it was a fun, harmless read. But the niggling annoyance has grown, to the point that I'm actually angry at the book at this stage - and I didn't think I'd cared about it enough to be angry, but there.

The general gist of the book's message is that people aren't black-or-white, and that a rather immature sixteen-year-old's idea of wickedness is probably going to be rather overblown. Ben grows up a lot over the book, and realises that she's been doing several people rather an injustice, and making things worse for herself. In particular, she realises that the queen is actually admirable in a lot of ways, and that a good part of why they got on so badly was Ben's own immaturity and stubbornness. Which, all right, as far as it goes, complex characters are a good thing - except that the queen doesn't have any similar revelation, and never suffers or feels badly for her treatment of Ben. She locked up her niece for months and denied her enough food to eat. To turn around and say that this was her niece's fault and they're all going to get on like wildfire now that Ben's grown up some is, actually, incredibly disturbing.

The other character I wanted to strangle was the love interest, a prince from the warlike kingdom over the other side of the mountains. He and Ben fail to get on from their first meeting, and continue failing to get on through all their subsequent meetings. The author seems to be working with the idea that enmity-turns-to-love is more interesting than admiration-turns-to-love, but the thing is that there has to be a reason for the enmity to turn to love. Prince Florian is a war-mongering, arrogant, petty boy, who treats the heroine appallingly when he knows who she is, and even more appallingly when he thinks, as he does for a good part of the book, that she's a fat little peasant boy his soldiers have taken prisoner and chained in the kitchen tent. He also tries to invade her kingdom, and makes free comment to the fat-little-peasant-boy about how doltish and repulsive Princess Benevolence was. We as readers are let in on how he's really misunderstood and a true prince when the two of them have a heart-to-heart one evening in which Florian makes some atrociously sappy and entirely out-of-character revelations about his ideals for true love, which do nothing to establish his decency as a human being, only his rather tenuous grip on reality. When Ben confronts him later about the gap between his ideals and his plan to marry somebody he barely knows and dislikes, he has her thrown into jail with a death threat hanging over her head, for her disrespect.

Somehow she gets over all this when she thinks he's dying, and they have a rather rapturous kiss. This doesn't even need the Stockholm Syndrome thing to be a terrible romance, but I might be OK with it if there was even some acknowledgment that he was desperately unlikeable but she liked him anyway. Instead we just have Ben feeling terrible and apologising about having accidentally done something to humiliate him once, without even mentioning that maybe she's still ahead in the humiliation stakes, as far as their personal interaction goes. Just. Angry reader fists, all right?
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Reading Progress

April 21, 2008 – Shelved
Started Reading
July 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
July 29, 2008 – Shelved as: ya
July 29, 2008 – Shelved as: ya-specfic
July 29, 2008 – Shelved as: setting-secondary-world

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Alia While the book didn't make me quite as angry, (I did like Ben's growing maturity) I totally agree with you on the flaws. That declaration of love came out of nowhere! And the neatly wrapped up ends just seemed to trivalize all that came before it.

message 2: by JM (new) - rated it 2 stars

JM And the neatly wrapped up ends just seemed to trivalize all that came before it.

Definitely. Drachensbett may not have assassinated Ben's parents, but they still declared war.

message 3: by Kate (new) - rated it 1 star

Kate I agree with most (well pretty much all your statements) though my animosity for this book knows no bounds, I do believe you are mistaken on one point. It was my understanding that the Queen was not starving Ben when she was locked in the tower, she still ate meals with the Queen and Lady Beatrix, however they put her into the tower because someone had been sneaking her sweets (chocolates, tarts, etc.). I completely agree about the romance(I was chanting Stockholm syndrome in my head the entire time).

message 4: by JM (new) - rated it 2 stars

JM She didn't starve her, but she constantly gave her not enough to eat at meals. She did it in the guise of Ben learning to eat ladylike portions of food, but keeping somebody in a constant state of gnawing hunger (which is what would have happened if Ben hadn't managed to sneak to the kitchens) is cruel no matter what you call it. It doesn't matter that the queen and Beatrice were also denying themselves, for their own ridiculous reasons.

It just ... it really peeved me, because if you took away the fairy tale setting *everybody* would call the not-enough-food and the locking-up child abuse.

But yay! I scrolled despairingly through the reviews, but I couldn't find anybody else who'd gotten angry! :-)

Molly I was under the impression that Ben had an eating disorder in the beginning of the book. She ate for comfort because the food remind her of her mother, not because she was hungry. Then once her aunt began exercising more control on Ben's life, Ben ate as a form of rebellion against her aunt. Ben's relationship with food was unhealthy; she was addicted.

Book Ben describes the amount of food she's allowed and that should be more than enough. Her aunt in no way starved her. Also to prove how bad her eating habits were when she snuck food, it described her actually eating a cupful of sugar!

The Overflowing Inkwell And don't forget the spoonfuls of tallow! Thought I would really gag at that one.
I absolutely, wholeheartedly, agree with what you said about the romance. That's exactly how I felt. The animosity between the pair even grows stronger towards the end of the book and then, in the very last pages, it's all wiped away and they're in love FOREVER AND EVER and true love's kiss saves the day. Just. . . . sigh. It would have been great if they hadn't gotten on so well. Or had a promise of getting on better. Something. Not just suddenly realising the prince/princess you have despised this entire book is suddenly your one true love because you've been having the same dreams every night. -_-

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