The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine & Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Sorry I’ve been slacking on reviews. To make up for the past three months of barely reading (seriously, four books in April, ZERO in May, and three in June), I’ve spent the last two weeks reading constantly and not really stopping for anything. So in the next few days I’ll try to write a bunch in between books.
One thing I’ve noticed about the more than thirty books I borrowed from the library is that there’s quite a few that have very similar storylines. In order to consolidate the number of reviews I need to write, I’m going to do something a little different and group some of the books together and compare them instead.
For this first review I’m comparing two middle-grade books about princesses: The Two Princess of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine and Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

Two Princesses of Bamarre Summary: When plague strikes Bamarre, Princess Addie must fulfill an ancient prophecy.

Brave and adventurous, Princess Meryl dreams of fighting dragons and protecting the kingdom of Bamarre. Shy and fearful, Princess Addie is content to stay within the safety of the castle walls. The one thing that the sisters share is their unwavering love for each other.

The tables are turned, however, when the Gray Death leaves Meryl fatally ill. To save her sister, meek Princess Addie must find the courage to set out on a dangerous quest filled with dragons, unknown magic, and death itself. Time is running out, and the sisters’ lives—and the future of the kingdom of Bamarre—hang in the balance.

Princess Ben Summary: “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’s 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 tyranny?

Plot:
I loved both plots equally. In Two Princesses, shy and timid Princess Addie has to go on a quest to save her sister. There’s magic, dragons, trolls, fairies, etc. I loved the way this was executed. Since it’s not a terribly long book, you might think too much information was crammed into it but Levine makes everything work together wonderfully. With the help of her Seven-League boots, Addie can move between different sections of the kingdom instantly and encounters tons of different creatures. Many of them, (trolls, specters, gryphons) are simply monsters but I was happily surprised to find the dragon was intelligent and had a complex personality. She was still evil, but the depth she gave to the story was fantastic. Though the story revolves around Addie, the secondary characters were well rounded and I felt like I knew them just as well as I knew Addie.

In Princess Ben, Benevolence must overcome unforeseen circumstances to save herself and her country. There’s magic, dragons, a somewhat evil queen, a war with neighboring country Drachensbett, etc. This was also executed fairly well and I enjoyed the little bits of history of Montagne that we were given. I also enjoyed the fact that the love interest started out as the enemy. I love when misunderstood characters are simply that: misunderstood. That probably stems from my long-standing love of Beauty and the Beast.

The Heroines:
I adored Princess Addie. At first I thought I wouldn’t because of how timid she was. Terrified of everything, she hardly ever left the castle and when she did, she stayed on castle grounds. I was expecting to be annoyed by her, but when her sister’s life is in danger, Addie pushes back her fears in order to save her. She doesn’t suddenly become fearless, but she doesn’t let her fears control her either and by the end of the story she comes to realize that some of her fears (not all of them) aren’t as scary as she thought they were. I loved watching Addie grow into herself and couldn’t help but admire her strength and resolve.

Princess Ben, quite frankly, annoyed the crap out of me for most of the book. I understand she’s young and I understand her parents didn’t raise her to act like a princess, but from what we learned of her parents I would have expected her to be a lot more mature than she was. She was petty and spiteful and made the same mistakes over and over again. No matter how many bad things happened, she never grew up or took responsibility until she became a prisoner of Drachensbett. After that, I liked her much better and she became someone I could relate to, even though she was still a little impulsive and stubborn.

Overall:
Two Princesses was a quick, fun read that I enjoyed immensely. Everything tied together to make an exciting, heartfelt story that I couldn’t put down.
I also loved the ending. It wasn’t what I was expecting and was a little bittersweet, but I was glad there wasn’t a random and improbable miracle to make everything end perfectly. Even though I love reading about magic and fairytales, I also believe magic should have limits and while I want every book to have a happily ever after, I don’t particularly like when they become completely unrealistic.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fairytales and strong, smart heroines.

Princess Ben didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The first half was slow and I didn’t like the protagonist at all. Murdock made up for it in the second half where the pace picked up and it became a story I couldn’t put down but I still can’t forget the fact I almost put it down in the beginning. I would recommend this one to anyone who likes fairytales, but if you’re the type of reader that needs a fast-paced book to hold your attention, this might not be the book for you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on either of these books and what you think of this joint review. Should I do another like this or stick to regular reviews?
-Antonia.

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4 responses to “The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine & Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

  • rgdole

    I love The Two Princesses of Bamarre… though pretty much everything by Levine is awesome… except maybe the Tale of Two Castles… that one was so not up to her normal awesomeness… but this one was really interesting as you see the Addie braving adventures she never wanted and even Meryl’s self-discovery at the end… it’s really got a lot of depth to it and meaning… and I’ve never read Princess Ben now I’m pretty sure I won’t…

    • classybooksxo

      I’ve only read Two Princess of Bamarre and Fairest by Levine. I always mean to get more of hers but end up forgetting when I make it to the library.
      Thanks for your thoughts. 🙂

      • rgdole

        you haven’t read Ella Enchanted? I thought that was everyone’s first book by her… my personal favorite…

      • classybooksxo

        Haha. I know. I can’t really believe it either. Unfortunately I saw the movie and I have trouble reading books after I’ve seen the movie/tv show. I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually.

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