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Princess Ben Hardcover – March 18, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 1090L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (March 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618959718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618959716
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,557,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Monica Edinger on April 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I've read, loved, studied, and taught fairy tales all my life. Every three years I co-teach a graduate school fairy tale course and, since 1990, I've been doing a Cinderella unit with my fourth graders. So I'm always interested in new versions of these old tales as well as original ones. At the same time, because many of these come up short for me, I am a wary reader of them, especially those featuring feisty oppositional heroines who are too often pallid cousins of Gail Carson Levine's Ella and Patricia Wrede's Cimorene. So I was both curious and dubious as I started reading Catherine Murdock's Princess Ben. And here I am, after finishing it last night, having enjoyed it sufficiently to want to write about it at length.

So getting to the book itself, what was it that I liked so much? First of all, I was captivated immediately by the mannered writing style and voice. Murdock has really pulled off that old-fashioned first-person epistolary style and voice; it is very nicely done indeed. At first I was very conscious of this as I read (in a good way -- I was simply enjoying her sentences and vocabulary) , but once I got into the plot I stopped paying attention; I'm guessing she sustained it all the way through. For the last few years I've been listening to a lot of Dickens, Collins, and now Eliot so I'm very conscious of this old-fashioned style and it grates on me when writers try it unsuccessfully. So bravo to Murdock for pulling it off.

The characters are all very complex -- no one is totally bad or totally good; a very nice way of deepening and complicating the usual good/bad cast of characters in traditional fairy tales.
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Format: Hardcover
Fans of Catherine Gilbert Murdock's previous books, Dairy Queen and its sequel, The Off Season , will be surprised and excited to discover that PRINCESS BEN is a tale in a completely different vein, yet equally enjoyable. This fantasy novel with fairy tale leanings is told by Princess Benevolence, who finds herself forced into becoming a "proper" princess after years of escaping the Queen's notice when the King is killed and his brother -- her father -- disappears.

At first Ben wants nothing more than to thwart Queen Sophia's every attempt to turn her into a lady, with the right manners and figure. She stumbles through dance classes, sneaks extra food whenever she can, and avoids all thought of her new position as heir to the throne. Locked during the night in a tower room, she finds a much more interesting way of passing the time when a secret passage leads her to a room of sorcery. Soon Ben is spending all her time learning spells, and half-sleeping through her days of lessons.

Ben's newfound contentment is disrupted when the threat of war looms. Thrown out into the world by the magical forces she still cannot completely control, she learns that there is some use for the skills the Queen tried to teach her after all. It will take all of her courage and determination to survive this challenge and become a true ruler.

Ben is a spirited narrator, and readers will love every minute they spend with her, from her somewhat spoiled beginnings to her later maturity.
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Format: Hardcover
At first I was a little worried Princess Ben might turn out to be just another feisty princess story. All the ingredients are there: unconventional princess, arrogant prince, mean queen, locked tower, fire-breathing dragon, girl-disguised-in-boy's-clothing, magical prophecies - you know the drill. Fortunately this story kept me on my toes. Catherine Gilbert Murdock manages to take all the familiar fairy tale elements and turn them on their head.

Oh, and the voice! Ben has sardonically appealing wit, done in a style that sounds like it was written with a quill pen on parchment. She even sent me to the dictionary a time or two.

Finally, might I just add for the record that I LOVE it when an author does something completely different than what she's done before, and does it well?
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Format: Hardcover
In the author's attempt at eloquence, she uses such unnecessary flowery words, which painted no pictures or brought to mind no feelings. It was simply wordy for the sake of wordiness, and felt like the author had turned to her thesaurus at every sentence to see what extravagant turn of phrase she could create next.
Because it is a coming of age tale, at the beginning the main character is not likable in the least. But by the end, she is not lovable, either.
With a constant focus on food and her large weight, she suddenly has the realization that she's been eating for comfort, and not for sustenance. She instantly changes her ways, and food isn't mentioned again. Ridiculous. Eating disorders are never so easily conquered, and are perhaps too complicated a subject to be dissected in a book so short.
The love story element was under-developed, and I felt that I cared little for either Ben or her Prince.
The cute things I did appreciate, though, were the references made to fairy tales. The girl trades some "magic beans" for a cow, loses her shoe after a ball (by throwing it angrily at the prince), is stuck in a tall tower, and is laid under a spell to sleep.
If the author had used fewer words trying to sound intelligent, and more words fleshing out her characters, I might have loved this book. As it was, I didn't hate it. But I barely liked it.

Rated G. No parental guidance necessary for this one.
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