My gown suited me as well as I could ever hope, though I could not but envy the young ladies who would attract the honest compliments of the night. My bodice did not plunge as dramatically as some, and no man – no man I would ever want to meet, surely – could fit his hands round my waist. What I lacked in beauty I would simply have to earn with charm . . .
Benevolence is not your typical princess — and Princess Ben is certainly not your typical fairy tale.
With her parents lost to assassins, Princess Ben ends up under the thumb of the conniving Queen Sophia. Starved and miserable, locked in the castle’s highest tower, Ben stumbles upon a mysterious enchanted room. So begins her secret education in the magical arts: mastering an obstinate flying broomstick, furtively emptying the castle pantries, setting her hair on fire . . . But Ben’s private adventures are soon overwhelmed by a mortal threat to her kingdom. Can Ben save the country, and herself, from vile tyranny?
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A handful of reviews
★ "Murdock's prose sweeps the reader up and never falters, blending a formal syntax and vocabulary with an intimate tone that bonds the reader with Ben as she transforms . . . into a competent, compassionate thinking young woman." Horn Book (starred review)
★ "A rip-roaring yarn." Booklist (starred review)
"Full of magic, adventure, and fantasy!!! I absolutely recommend this book!!!" The Story Siren
"An amusing, heartwarming adventure put forth in richly flavored prose." Kirkus
"I love how the chick on the cover still looks like she can kick your tail halfway to China, even in that gorgeous dress and all the sparklies." Confessions of a Bibliovore
“Best Books of 2008,” School Library Journal
Nominee, “2009 Best Books for Young Adults,” American Library Association
A Summer 2008 Book Sense Children's Pick
"#1 Book of the Year", Bookworm Readers
Garden State Teen Book Award 2011 nominee
Questions from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
How did the idea for Princess Ben originate?
The original story came to me in a dream of a girl on a broomstick fleeing an evil queen by plunging out a castle window into the night. I woke up thinking “Wow!” And also “Maybe this could get me out of writing of the Dairy Queen sequel!” I wrote the first draft in the sixteen days. The book has changed since then, particularly the first three chapters and the last quarter, but the meat of the story remains what I came up with two years ago.
Why did you write this book? What interested you in the material?
I’ve always loved fairy tales, and writers’ endless reworking of fairy tales — the "three little wolves and the pig," for example. The tweaking reveals what really matters in the story, and how our interpretations alter (we now sympathize with wolves). I also place a lot of value in the process of maturing — that’s what these stories are about, after all — and I wanted to explore this from a female perspective. There’s a line in the book where Queen Sophia tells Benevolence that kingdoms aren’t lost on the field of battle, they’re lost in “interstitial conversations,” and I truly believe that. At the end of Princess Ben, the heroine saves her country not through swordplay or brute strength, but because this short, plump, awkward girl is an amazing person. The lesson is that anyone can be amazing, that it’s something worth working on.
Questions from Publishers Weekly >>
Cynsations: “Catherine Gilbert Murdock on Princess Ben >>
Questions for readers
• Beyond appearance, how does Ben differ from tradition fairy-tale princesses? In what ways is she the same?=
• Over the course of the story, Ben’s opinion of Sophia changes dramatically. How would you explain Queen Sophia’s behavior in the first half of the book now that you’ve read the ending?
• Ben’s feelings about power, in particular her view of her own authority, also change dramatically. What are some of the kinds of power described in Princess Ben? How do these different forms of power affect and define the various characters — and the kingdom of Montagne?
• Princess Ben literally has a “fairy tale ending.” What do you think of the fact that Ben, at the story’s conclusion, ends up doing precisely what her parents and Drachensbett wanted? How does this reflect on her? On women generally?
Discuss body image and how it relates to Ben, fairy tales, and other writing genres. Does Ben have anything to offer modern readers?