From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 6–10— After 15-year-old Princess Benevolence's parents and her uncle, the king, are presumed killed by agents of neighboring, much-larger Drachensbett, she moves to the palace to live with her widowed aunt, Sophia, now the queen regent, to be groomed as heir to the throne. When Ben discovers magic within the walls of her castle home, she finds a means for asserting her independence and escaping her aunt's control. After a series of adventures and hardships away from the castle, including time spent as a prisoner and drudge in a Drachensbett army camp, Ben ultimately returns to the castle to accept her royal duties. Since her previous behavior has led to questions about her suitability for the throne, she must prove herself to her friends and enemies, using her magic and her wits to find her own adult role. At first, Ben is somewhat spoiled and childish, but the loss of her parents forces her to grow and mature. The first-person narrative is presented as the writing of a much-older Ben, looking back at her life, which allows for both immediacy and frequent humorous comments. The formal tone contrasts with Ben's droll remarks about her many misfortunes. The magic is a significant tool, but her intellect and decisions for how to use her powers are more important than her limited repertoire of spells. Murdock's first venture into fantasy offers a fairy tale with several twists and surprises, and readers will be drawn into the world and moods that she creates.—Beth L. Meister, Pleasant View Elementary School, Franklin, WI
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*Starred Review* In this new offering, the author of Dairy Queen (2006) and The Off-Season (2007) shifts from a contemporary Wisconsin setting to a magical, snowbound kingdom. Once again, though, Murdock’s protagonist is a winning, iconoclastic teen female. Princess Benevolence’s life is upended during a single afternoon’s tragedy: while visiting an ancestor’s grave, her uncle and her mother are killed, and her father disappears. Ben, now the kingdom’s heir, begins grueling lessons with her aunt Sophia, learning “myriad responsibilities and arts of royalty.” Just as her tutelage becomes unbearable, she discovers a hidden wizard’s room in the castle and begins teaching herself, using the enchanted spell books she finds there. Then tense negotiations to marry Ben to the sullen heir of a neighboring kingdom commence. Gathering her newfound magical knowledge, the princess flees the castle only to find grave dangers outside its walls. In delicious language that is both elevated and earthy, Murdock spins a rip-roaring yarn that borrows fairy-tale conventions (particularly from “Sleeping Beauty”) and reverses them to suit her strong, resourceful heroine. The wild adventure, intricately imagined setting, memorable characters, and romance will charm readers, especially fans of Gail Carson Levine’s Fairest (2006). Grades 8-11. --Gillian Engberg