Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review: Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Princess Ben is a random book that I found in the Savers book section. Buying books at Goodwill or other thrift stores are almost always a good deal and worth a try.

Princess Ben is a young adult book and I've always subscribed to the theory that books are books, no matter the age level or content. I like science fiction and fantasy, and I'll give young adult books a shot. I normally read before bedtime, and I favor books that I can easily get through and be taken on a ride.

Catherine Murdock takes her time during the first half of the book to paint a picture of the main character, Princess Ben. It is told in the first person point of view and also written in what I've dubbed, "old timey" upper class royal English. I was caught off guard and for the first 3/4th of the book, was extremely bothered by it. Hindsight is 20/20 and I find it interesting how my feelings towards the book seems to be correlated by how I how I felt about the "old timey" writing.

Murdock does extremely well characterizing Princess Ben during the first half of the book, because I couldn't stand her. Princess Ben's parents die in the first 20 pages of the book, and though I knew this was supposed to be a traumatic event in her life, I didn't even feel bad for because of how spoiled rotten she is and how obsessed she is about "delectable treats" and either shoveling her face with food or finding food to shovel her face with. Though Princess Ben is raised outside of the castle, it is abundantly clear that she has been sheltered and waited on by her mother her entire life, and has no perspective about herself.

Even though I found that Murdock's writing towards Princess Ben successful, halfway through the book is where the plot and character growth seems to fall apart. Princess Ben finds a magical room when she is locked in the tower and very quickly, learns some magic. I would have liked to read about Ben's attitude changes while she attempts magic. However, she learns some magic and then flies out of the room on a broomstick when the ball doesn't go her way all in quick succession.

Without giving too much away, Ben goes on to encounter different characters and develops certain relationships with them as she tries to solve the mystery surrounding her parents' deaths. After all the concentration on Princess Ben's awful spoilt nature, I wanted more of a redemption story along with more chapters about the other protagonist, Prince Florian. I felt like the story turned into a 'tell, not show' when it came to character growth and romance. It's understandable that first person is limited, but maybe a few third person chapters with just Prince Florian?

Nevertheless, I was not annoyed with the "old timey" English writing with the remaining 1/4th of the book. I thought the writing had a lot of action and shows Princess Ben doing some really heroic things. I also found it amusing when other fairy tales, or items from other fairy tales were mentioned in the book. Either it was an attempt on a fresh take or a "wink" in terms of mentioning well known fairy tales, it didn't matter to me.

Overall, if you like "old timey" writing young adult that attempts to retell popular fairy tales, Princess Ben is for you.

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