Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Age 12 and up

Within the first few chapters I was fully expecting a reversed Cinderella story with Gail Carson Levine-esque undertones. Boy was I wrong.

Murdock doesn’t retell a specific fairytale (or at least, it’s not one that I am familiar with). She makes her own. Oh, there are elements of the fairytale world. Jibes at Rumpelstiltskin and a slight fixation with Sleeping Beauty on the main characters part, but Ben’s  story is entirely her own.

Ben (short for Benevolence) is a witty character–who can be slightly frustrating. I know, isn’t wonderful? While her problems are not of her own making, she certainly exacerbates them with her unwilling attitude. I understood her why she was being so frustrated, but I wanted to give her a good shake nonetheless. She’s not perfect, which is what makes her so wonderfully real.

Granted, being a fairytale story there is a certain level of predictability (hard to avoid at least some in this genre). There is trouble, a kingdom is endangered, the heroine has to save the say (sort of) and she gets a prince to boot. Oh come on, you knew that would happen (Spoiler alert, kind of)…after all they are mortal enemies, of royal blood and can’t seem to spend more than a few minutes in each other’s company without degenerating into barbed words and shoe throwing–if you didn’t realize they were meant to be together…you should probably read more. But the devil is, as they say, in the details. And Murdock is a genius with those.

She takes the expected plot and twists them if so that she owns it. She makes what could be very simple and redundant into something delightfully complex and intriguing. Ben’s inner voice is hilarious, her observations on the coming plot twists maddening (especially for someone who already spends a greater deal of time trying to figure out what is coming). She brings the story to life. Her expression of the surprise she feels at certain moments is genuine. And her flexibility and determination drive her reactions to everything Murdock throws her way (look at me, talking about a fictional character as if she actually exists). This was a book that I regretted putting down every time I had to.

I would say that just about anyone who is prone to like fantasy books will like this one (if you like Ella Enchanted, you’ll love Princess Ben), both young and old. For girls and boys. It is an action driven fairytale, rather than a romance driven one. It has flying princesses, dragons, a not-quite-wicked stepmother, and princes who are not quite all they seem.

This is a good example of:

  • First person narrative
  • Original character
  • Fairytale retelling
  • Plot twists (galore!)
  • A fun book!

This book is on my recommended reading list.