Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
My rating: 5 of 5
The Princess Benevolence (better known as Ben) has lived most of her life free from the restraints of court life, protected by her beloved mother–a fact which Ben’s equally unrestrained girth supports. Everything changes, however, when Ben’s mother and her uncle, the king, are brutally murdered and Ben’s father goes missing, leaving Ben heir apparent. Her aunt Sophia, serving as Queen Regent until Ben reaches her majority, begins pruning Ben to be ready to rule, putting her through all sorts of lessons and curbing her diet to an extent that Ben finds inordinately cruel. But Ben is not exactly a willing victim, particularly when she discovers a magically guarded room hidden above her own tower room . . . a room that has been hiding all sorts of magical secrets that it now begins to disclose to Ben.
I very much enjoyed reading Princess Ben. It reminds me a great deal of Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, in that it is a fantasy that reads and feels like a historical novel for a large portion of the story. Indeed, although the names of the particular kingdoms were unfamiliar, for the first third of the story, I had no real reason to believe this was not a historical novel focusing on some small medieval kingdom. It would have been an excellent story, just as a historical novel, too. The characters are well developed, growing, and full of surprises; the political intrigue is suspenseful and convincing; and the development of the kingdoms and their history is equally interesting and convincing. But then, around a third of the way through, Ben discovers all this magic that’s secreted away, and it becomes clear that the story is in actuality, a fantasy. And it works beautifully as that also. The magic suits the setting and enhances the story without diminishing the importance of all the other set up that has already been placed. Furthermore, although Ben has magic at her disposal, she comes into situations where she can’t use it and must still rely on her strong will and wits. Also, I really appreciated the small, deft allusions to numerous classic fairy tales that were scattered throughout the story without ever becoming anything significant . . . almost as a hint that this will become a fantasy, for those sharp enough to catch it. Princess Ben is a story that I greatly enjoyed and will definitely read again–highly recommended.
Note: This is kind of random, but I appreciated finding a fantasy that dealt with obesity in a practical and appropriate way–not a topic much touched on in your usual fantasy novels