Monday, August 25, 2008

Princess Ben

Catherine Gilbert Murdock's previous two novels were centered around a sixteen year old female football player (it's about so much more, but that's the Cliff's Notes version...if you haven't read Dairy Queen or its sequel, The Off Season, you're missing out!), so it was with some surprise I saw that her latest YA novel, Princess Ben, was a princess story. A female football player is unique, but a princess? Haven't Gail Carson Levine and Shannon Hale cornered the market on literary princess novels for middle schoolers? Perhaps, but when you read Princess Ben, you'll find that Ben (short for Benevolence) is not your ordinary princess.

Ben is uncouth, uninterested in embroidery, a dunce at dance, and not impressed with the prince next door. When her parents fall in battle, she is declared heiress to the throne and goes to live with her aunt, the Queen Regent, Sophia. Queen Sophia is determined to shape her into a true princess in order to secure an alliance with the neighboring kingdom.

Ben, of course, resists, and is found repugnant by Prince Florian. Outraged by her resistance to bend, Queen Sophia locks Ben in the castle tower, in which Ben discovers that she has some very unique powers.

The outcome of the story might not be too surprising (although there are enough twists to make the story moving along), but this terrific blend of fantasy, adventure, and romance will charm many readers. Although the story is romantic in sensibility, Ben is a feisty, unpredictable, and interesting character. Most readers will note the allusion to Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, while attentive readers will also catch a more subtle allusion to Jack and the Beanstalk. It's a departure for Catherine Gilbert Murdock, but one that I'm delighted she made!

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