From the Publisher
Wichita Eagle, Great Gift Recommendations 2008
Children's Literature - Anna Lee McLeod
Princess Benevolence, or Ben as she is commonly known, is unlike any other princess, having none of the traits usually associated with princesses. The many hardships that she endures soon turn into triumphs and will change her life forever. After the mysterious deaths of her beloved parents, Ben is locked in a tower by Queen Sophia, her prim and proper aunt, who forces her to attend lessons that will make her into a princess fit to rule the kingdom of Montagne. Close to starving and completely miserable, Ben stumbles upon a secret room where she learns not only how to create the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, but also learns to fly on a broomstick! When Prince Florian and the army of Drachensbett threaten to take over her future kingdom, Ben must rely not only on her wits and new magical powers, but on the passion and strength that her parents instilled in her to save her kingdom. Young girls everywhere can identify and fall in love with Ben's determination, wit, and beauty. The characterization and descriptive language in which Murdock describes Ben creates an unconventional but engaging character so that modern girls and fantasy lovers everywhere will identify with her and know that one can be different, beautiful, and victorious at the same time. In addition to creating a lovable character in Ben, Murdock also fashions a plot filled with adventure, action, and love that will discourage readers from putting this book down until the very end. Reviewer: Anna Lee McLeod
Murdock (Dairy Queen) reworks now standard elements of the modern fairy tale-reluctant princess, haughty prince, evil queen, portentous prophesies-for this frothy coming-of-age story. Princess Ben (short for Benevolence) is effectively orphaned after assassins kill her uncle the king and her mother, and her father disappears. Now heiress to Montagne's throne, Ben is forced into the tutelage of her aunt, Queen Sophia, with a regimen of dance lessons, embroidery and dieting, all in order to be married off to Florian, crown prince of menacing Drachensbett. After their umpteenth clash, the queen locks Ben in a tower, where Ben discovers a hidden portal, a wizarding room and a book of spells. Through her forays in magic, Ben learns that if Drachensbett's leaders can't marry their way into controlling Montagne, they will take it by force, and she will have to use her smarts to save her country. There's no new ground broken-the sardonic, witty repartee between Ben and Florian would fit right into a Shrek sequel-but the story (think poor man's Gail Carson Levine) is thoroughly entertaining. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Judy Crowder
Take a good measure of a resilient young girl who can work out her problems, add some humor and elements of classic fairy tales, then blend in some coming-of-age aspects, and you have a splendid young adult novel in Princess Ben. Princess BenevolenceBenis the only daughter of two doting parents and is not your typical princess. Her father is third in line for the throne (brother to the current King Walter, who has a son). Ben's life is a carefree one until a terrible tragedy falls upon the family, and she finds herself alone with only widowed Queen Sophia, a harsh guardian. Ben is taken from her comfortable home only to be thrust into loveless palace lifeand training to be "real" royalty. Sophia insists on throwing a Cinderella-type ball, so Ben can meet Prince Florian of the neighboring (and sometimes hostile) kingdom of Drachensbett. Thankfully, Ben has found her salvationa hidden magician's chamber with a book of magic spells, the greatest of which enables her to split in half, leaving her body in a coma-like state while she roams the secret passages of the castle. Will the magic Ben learns help her copeor better yet escapeher life in the kingdom of Montagne? Her bumbling attempts throw herdisguised as a peasant boyinto the camp of Florian himself, who speaks openly of kissing Ben awake and claiming Montagne for Drachensbatt, even though Florian's opinion of Ben is the opposite of a sleeping beauty. Will Ben be able to save her beloved kingdom? What about her love-hate for Prince Florian? What horror dwells in the mountains above Montagne? Murdock has crafted a wonderful, compelling read. One the reader gets used to the stiltedspeech of Ben's world (good vocabulary building!) she or he will not be able to put this book down. Reviewer: Judy Crowder
VOYA - Debbie Clifford
Princess Benevolence's indulgent parents have raised her in simple surroundings, away from the Montagne royal court. With the deaths of her uncle the king and her mother in addition to her father's disappearance, Ben is taken into the castle by Queen Regent Sophia to learn behavior befitting the heir to the throne. Sophia is demanding and sometimes cruel. After Ben's insolence gets the best of her, Sophia locks her in a tower where the princess discovers a hidden chamber and a book of magic. She tries out assorted spells with varying degrees of success. Her training comes in handy when Montagne is threatened by their neighbor, Drachensbett. In an effort to avoid war, Sophia arranges a ball to allow potential suitors-especially the Crown Prince of Drachensbett-to look over the Princess Benevolence. Ben flees the ball on a magic broom with unexpected results. This wonderfully written fairy tale is unusual in that the princess is not the typical beautiful, lithe, accomplished young woman. Rather she is petulant, overweight, impulsive, and totally unpolished. As the story progresses, Ben learns discretion and charm and blossoms into a nearly perfect fairy-tale princess. Readers will sympathize with the orphan Ben and be frustrated with her self-indulgence yet ultimately cheer for her to reach her happily-ever-after. This compelling story is full of adventure, humor, a touch of romance, and the occasional reference to popular fairy tales, making it a thoroughly delightful read. Reviewer: Debbie Clifford
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
A good cover helps to sell this story. As in many familiar fairy tales and traditional tales, this takes place in an imaginary kingdom. The Princess (Benevolence) has been pampered and loved until the horrible day that her life as she knows it is destroyed. Her parents set out to perform a traditional ritual in the countryside and they are attacked. Her mother is killed and her father, the king, disappears. That leaves the cold-hearted aunt as Princess Ben's guardian, and the Princess is ridiculed, starved, and imprisoned. There are many in the kingdom who loved her parents and care for Princess Ben, but they must do so at their own peril. Through the hardships, Princess Ben starts to grow up. No longer is she the slightly spoiled, pudgy teenagershe learns to think clearly, to discipline herself, to learn the necessary magic that will free herself and her people, and to finally find happiness. An old-fashioned kind of tale that will appeal most to younger YAs. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 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
Princess Benevolence isn't a run-of-the-mill spoiled princess. Ben doesn't want to live in the royal castle wearing beautiful dresses. She'd rather sulk in her family apartments over the barracks, staying a scruffy, indulged ragamuffin. But Ben's parents are ambushed, leaving her, now the heir to the throne, in the care of her haughty aunt, the regent queen Sophia. Sophia is cold and loveless, determined to mold Ben into a marriageable princess. Ben's aunt starves her to make her willowy, forces her to take dance lessons to make her graceful and locks her in a barren bedroom cell to break her spirit. When she discovers a hidden door in her bleak bedroom, she throws herself into the task of learning magic. Maybe witchcraft will provide escape from Sophia, salvation from marriage and vengeance for her parents' deaths? Ben's coming-of-age fits well into a now-common fantasy mold: She grows into a self-reliant heroine, kicking butt while acquiring social graces on her own terms, saving the kingdom and the handsome prince-she's a fairy-tale princess for the modern girl. An amusing, heartwarming adventure put forth in richly flavored prose. (Fantasy. 11-13)
Read an Excerpt
How often indeed I have pondered the hand fate would have dealt me had I accompanied my parents that dismal spring morning. Such musings, I concede, are naught but the near side of madness, for envisioning what might have been has no more connection to our own true reality than a lunatic has to a lemon. Nevertheless, particularly in those morose interludes that at times overburden even the most jovial of souls, my thoughts return to my dear mother and father, and again I marvel at the utter unpredictability of life, and the truth that our futures are so often determined not by some grand design or deliberate strategy but by the mundane capriciousness of a head cold. To be candid, my sickness did not occur completely by chance. I had exhausted myself in preparing for my fifteenth birthday fete the week before, had gorged myself during the festivities on far too many sweets, and had then caught a chill during a lengthy game of stags and hunters with my party guests in the twilight forest. Now, however, denying all my symptoms, I endeavored to join my parents. “I have to go!” I insisted from my bed. “It’s my grandfather.” My mother sighed. “Your grandfather would never approve of his granddaughter of all people making herself twice as ill on his account.” She replaced the cloth, soaked in her own herbal concoction, on my forehead, and coaxed some tea across my lips. “Why don’t you draw him a picture instead? I promise to leave it in a place of honor.” “A picture?” I scoffed. “I wish you’d realize I’m not a child.” She kissed my flushed cheeks with a smile. “Try to sleep, darling. We’ll be back before dusk.” These words, too, I ponder. My indignation notwithstanding, all evidence demonstrated that I was still very much a child. After all, I had brought this illness upon myself. Worse, I had sensed the head cold brewing yet petulantly refused to follow my mother’s advice, so sacrificing that pinch of prevention for cup after cup of homemade cure. My bedroom was crowded with stacks of fairy tales, many of the pages illuminated with my own crude drawings, and dolls in myriad displays of dishabille. How easy it would have been for my mother—indeed, were the tables turned, I would have so responded without hesitation—to point out my childishness. I told you so may be painless to utter, but that does not diminish the anguish these four words inflict upon a listener already in pain. That my mother held her tongue and gave me only love when I merited chiding demonstrates her empathy. So many times in the decades since I have reminded myself of her innate compassion, and on my best days have striven to match it. At the time, though, I simply sulked, and so my father found me as he strode in to wish me well. Even in the gloom of that overcast morning, he looked magnificent, his dress armor polished to a high gleam and his prince’s circlet, excavated from the woolen trunks for its semiannual outing, shining against his graying curls. He settled on my bedside with a clank or two. “’Tis a great shame you can’t join us today.” I pouted. “I could go. If you let me.” “And have your mother put my head on a stake? Do you have any notion what that would do to my handsome good looks?” I refused to be cheered. He eyed me with a twinkle. “What if I returned with a dragon?” Through enormous focus, I maintained my glower. “A wee green one that whistled like a kettle? It could roast chestnuts for you on winter mornings.” Despite my best efforts, up crept the corners of my mouth. “And warm your chilblains when you’re old,” I added.
“‘Ben,’ I’d call out, ‘where’s that blasted dragon of yours? My old toes are freezing!’” “And I’ll go and find the dragon—” “Where it’s playing with my grandchildren—” “And ask it, quite nicely, to come inside and attend to the needs of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Montagne.” I giggled; I could not help it. “Oh, bosh! You say that to a dragon and it’ll gobble me up, as sure as salt’s salt.” “And what would that do to your handsome good looks?” I teased him. “Improve them, I’d wager,” he answered with a grin. “Now, you be good and drink that wretched concoction, and I’ll take you up there next week. Just the two of us.” “Truly? With a picnic? A big one?” “Absolutely.” He, too, kissed my cheeks, and with a last exaggerated bow in my direction, he clattered down the stairs. Wrapping myself in a quilt, I crept to the window. In the courtyard below, Mother frowned as she struggled to fit her own golden princess circlet, for she had little skill at ceremony. With a flourish of trumpets, Uncle Ferdinand appeared at the great entrance to the castle proper, looking every inch the king in his robes of state. Unlike my father, UUncle Ferdinand truly was handsome, tall and lean and solemn. At his side stepped the group’s martial escort, Xavier the Elder, a grizzled warrior who had shaved so thoroughly that several nicks still oozed blood. Queen Sophia appeared as well, displaying the precise gestures and expressions expected of a woman of her rank. A quintet of soldiers played a military hymn, and then Mother, Father, Ferdinand, and Xavier strode across the drawbridge through a double phalanx of saluting guards. Father glanced back to smile a last greeting at me as Mother slipped her arm through his and lay her head on his shoulder. His armor must have been cold, given the unseasonable chill of the day, but the love between them transcended such trivial discomfort. Seeing them off, the queen stood at attention for exactly the amount of time that a queen should, and then with a cool flick of her gown turned back toward the castle, the footmen falling in behind her. Alone at last, the quilt about my shoulders, I sighed as I considered all the tasks that awaited me. A wool vest I had begun for Father the previous autumn lay half-finished, my efforts immobilized by a plethora of dropped stitches. Clearly it would not serve him this winter; at the rate I was progressing, years could pass before the thing warmed him. My mother had delegated to me the task of transcribing her grandmother’s yellowed recipes, the goal being to learn the art of cooking while improving my penmanship. Unfortunately the assignment always left me famished, rooting through the kitchen pantries like an autumn bear. Hunger was a burden I could not tolerate for even a heartbeat, a truth that my physique amply demonstrated. Simply glancing at the stack of stained and curling recipes sent my stomach to growling. Outside, the master of hounds returned with his pack, the dogs gleeful and wet from a long run and a swim in the Great River. But even their prancing enthusiasm did not lift my own misery. With only the ubiquitous murmur from the soldiers’ barracks to comfort me, I crept back into bed, seeking refuge from the oppressive mist that cloaked the castle’s turrets. Perusing my shelves, I could not find one volume to satisfy me. The fairy tales I had read countless times. The more recent additions held even less interest: dry histories of Montagne, geometry textbooks, a medical treatise on bloodletting that my mother appeared never to have opened and that she now put to use as a bookend. I squirmed further under the covers. My mind drifted, wondering if the foursome had yet arrived at my grandfather’s tomb, what they would say there in his honor. I had practiced my own speech for weeks, and had been quite proud of my little poem praising the Badger’s courage, the last stanza in particular:
You perished to save all of us. I hope your armor never rusts.
A dramatic conclusion, I believed at the time, though it now occurred to me that any armor entombed with a corpse for thirty-odd years would doubtless experience some corrosion. This realization only deepened my malaise. At last I drifted into a fitful sleep. Though slumber should remove us from the trials of our waking life—surely I always settled my head with this expectation, and ere this day had always found satisfaction—my present nap did rather the opposite. Almost at once, it seemed, my rest was disturbed by haunting images of the castle corridors. Not my familiar apartment, constructed scarce a century earlier with the new perimeter fortifications, but the castle proper, noble and ancient, with walls as thick as three men, and the Montagne hedgehog, emblem of the kingdom, carved in countless obscure corners. In this dream as I walked the corridors, one of these hedgehogs uncurled itself and turned to stare at me with black, unblinking eyes. Try as I might, I could not escape this piercing glare; I was trapped as utterly as a fish on a hook, though unlike a fish I could not even thrash about, for the paralysis of nightmare held me immobilized. Larger and larger those eyes grew, until their impenetrable blackness filled my vision. I had the sensation, provided by that sporadic omniscience that accompanies dream- state, that I must creep forward, though I had not a notion in the world whereto I was headed, or whether the floor below me would dissolve in abyss. At once a voice, opaque and unidentifiable, filled my ears: “It is time.”