Ben (short for Benevolence) was raised by loving and indulgent parents, the niece of the king but carefully kept away from court life. All that changes just after her fifteenth birthday, when her mother and uncle are killed and her father disappears, leaving her at the tender mercies of her aunt, the queen regent. She is rebellious and intractable, not seeing the point in learning court graces – how to eat, dance, play music, embroider handkerchiefs and, most importantly, speak elegantly about nothing at all. She is basically helpless and useless, until she stumbles across her castle’s hidden secret, and starts to actually learn something – magic, actually. Even so, it takes disaster and months of endurance on a cold mountain to make her finally grow up.

Princess Ben has a good plot: nicely blended fairy tale elements, an unconventional heroine (she’s not skinny, among other things), and a bit of a mystery. Unfortunately, the writing isn’t as good; it’s told in a first-person narration that is, frankly, stilted, prone to hyperbole, and a bit annoying. It does match the formal, flowery court language we find in the dialogue, and in a way matches the character, but it matches the character as she is during the events of the book, fifteen years old – but it’s supposedly being written several decades later. The character should be immature, but the writing shouldn’t be.

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