With a title like Princess Ben, you might expect this story to be about a tomboy sort of princess, but it's not. Ben is just short for Princess Benevolence, but Ben is highly unusual in other ways. Her parents shielded her from court life and training as a princess and allowed her to have a simple childhood (that was maybe just a little too relaxed). After eating herself sick and catching a chill at her fifteenth birthday party, Ben is forced to stay home during the ceremonial, semi-annual visit to her grandfathers grave. Her parents and her uncle, the King of Montagne, carry on without her.
That evening, she receives terrible news that her mother and uncle were murdered at the grave and her Father has gone missing. After extensive searches, her Father cannot be found and Ben is left as a charge of her Aunt Sofia, the Queen of Montagne. Sofia has never approved of Ben's upbringing and immediately puts Ben on a strict diet to counteract her chubby frame and forces her to begin new lessons on being proper royalty as Ben is now officially set to inherit the throne as soon as she is deemed worthy.
Queen Sofia is cold and makes it very clear that she thinks little of Ben and would happily marry her off. When she discovers that Ben has been sneaking food behind her back in order not starve, she forces Ben to live in a small inhospitable tower that can only be reached through the Queen's chambers. Ben is truly miserable until she discovers a magic chamber with a spell book and beings magical training. Soon she's sneaking about the castle through secret passages by night and snoozing through her lessons by day.
Ben pays little attention to the fact that her kingdom is being threatened by a neighboring kingdom Drachensbett, until she learns that her aunt hopes to create peace by marrying her off to the prince of Drachensbett. The plan quickly goes awry when the prince dislikes sulky Ben and the king of Drachensbett declares Ben will never be fit to be queen and the kingdom should be turned over to him. Ben is left desperate for a way to help save her kingdom.
The story is told first person and I enjoyed Ben's narrative voice. I did have a few problem with the book, the first being that this is another one of those books where the princess is transformed into a much thinner beauty before she is accepted by all and happy with herself. The second is that magic plays a large part of Ben's life and is completely left behind and it doesn't seem to be a sacrifice for her.
Overall, I'd still highly recommend this book. It especially appealed to me because it's a fairytale where no one is all good or bad, we see faults and strengths of all of the well-developed characters. And rare is the princess story where the Princess realizes that much of her predicament is due to her own foibles, and she has to fix them herself. Be sure to share this one with any princess lover that you know!