Princess Ben, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, is, at first, hard on a reader looking for a fully sympathetic heroine. Benevolence is the niece of a childless king and his queen. When she is fifteen, Ben's parents and uncle become the victims of tragedy, and she is forced to leave her family home to live in the castle with Queen Sophia. While Sophia's handling of the formerly much-indulged Ben is clumsy at best and abusive at worst, Ben's reaction to even the most sensible of Sophia's commands and requests is met with defiance and sullenness. Her refusal to acknowledge the fact that she would one day be queen pointed a sharp finger at her parents, who had apparently shown no interest in preparing her for the throne. I was hard-pressed to be charitably inclined toward parents who were so indifferent to their daughter's and their country's future. It's not like it was a secret that the king and queen had no children and that Ben would one day rule.
Things come to a head between Sophia and Ben, and the queen takes the agonizing step of locking Ben in a tower every night, away from all comfort. One night, Ben discovers a secret staircase in the tower. It leads to a long-hidden wizard room containing an unbelievable amount of dust and dirt as well as a spell book. Ben begins to teach herself magic, and learns a few other lessons in the process. Events conspire to cause her to flee the castle in disguise and she finds herself captured by her country's sworn enemies, who do not recognize her. As a slave, Ben works harder than she has ever worked in her life and learns self-control she never dreamed she possessed.
I found myself cheering for Ben in her struggles. For the first time, she takes to heart the safety of her country and all that it means to be a ruler. She escapes from captivity with the determination to put that hard-won lesson to good use. How she does so is a breathless, roller-coaster of a ride.