Review written by Jonathan Lavallee.
The Ordinary Princess is a great tale about a young woman who appreciates the value in being a strong willed individual while everyone around you is obsessed with the way you look and who you’re going to marry. It’s set in a kingdom called Phantasmorania, a place full of strange customs and interesting quirks. However, King Huldebrand and Queen Rodehesia are blessed with the grandest and greatest of things for a fantasy kingdom—a seventh princess. They already have six daughters, and the seventh one is supposed to be the most beautiful, elegant, refined, magical of all daughters. With that in mind, after much argument, the King and Queen decide on having a great and grand christening for their daughter Amethyst and invite all the faeries of the kingdom to Amythyst’s party.
Well, it ends up being a rather rash decision indeed, as King Huldebrand would have said, as a Faery comes along and gives Amethyst the gift of being ordinary. This puts the kingdom in an uproar, and lets Amy grow up in relative obscurity. Of course, this changes as each one of her other sisters gets married off and now the family is left with just Amy.
There are a lot of things that I think the book does rather well. It handles issues of body image because, despite her sisters’ beauty, they’re constantly sheltered to protect it and Amy has far more free rein. There are choices that Amy makes, because of the difficult situations in which she finds herself as an unmarried seventh princess.
The prose is very conversational in style, as if someone is telling you this tale rather than the standard type of prose you’ll find in many other novels. You really get the sense that this is someone close to you telling you the story. That being said, some of the names in the book require some enunciation calisthenics before you can say them, but for the most part the language of the book is readable and the plot moves along at a pretty quick pace.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Amy is by no means an unattractive person, but she’s considered plain in comparison to her sisters (who are all blond hair and blue eyed). You’re going to probably have to deal with questions about why the blond haired blue eyed sisters are considered beautiful and Amy isn’t, especially when it becomes a recurring gag in the book when they’re looking for a suitor to marry Amy. Suitors show up, look at her, and then suddenly find somewhere else they have to be.
When there’s a suitor that Amy finds on her own, through her adventure, her parents feel such a need to “up sell” Amy’s looks that Amy ends up adding a letter to the portrait that gets mailed out informing her love that she hasn’t changed despite what the portrait looks like.
The King and Queen are likeable characters, but after a great section where they’re arguing about Amy’s christening they spend all their time wondering about how they’re going to get Amy married off. They don’t talk with her about it, she’s not really brought up in the discussion. Their decisions, while possibly appropriate for a fantasy setting, are still rather extreme. They finally decide that they need to set up a trap for an unsuspecting suitor by hiring a dragon to lay waste to the countryside and when some Prince comes to defeat it, he’ll just have to take Amy’s hand in marriage.
This makes Amy run away from home in protest. Which is another troubling point of the story—Amy doesn’t confront her parents about this problem; she just decides to show them by running away. Of course this doesn’t teach them anything at all because when she returns and her suitor attempts to court her properly, King Huldebrand and Queen Rodehesia continue to do things, in Amy’s “best interest,” that actually go against what she wants.
I love this book. It’s one of the books that I go to again and again when I want to read something to the kids, or when I just feel the need to read something that will make me smile.
It’s a great read for your younger tween, between 8 and 10, with a very folksy style and a fast paced plot. Since the book is only about 110 pages (depending on your print version) it’s a great gateway into larger books if you have nervous younger tweens who might feel intimidated with something larger.
The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
Published in 1980 by Viking, an Imprint of Penguin Books
Read personal copy