Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. (Grades 6-10.)
If Princess Benevolence had accompanied her parents that day, everything would have been different. But, laid out with a cold, Ben stayed home and received news that night that her parents had been attacked by unknown assassins. The King and her mother were killed, her father and their head of defense are missing. The kingdom's in an uproar, suspecting the neighboring country of the attack, and Ben is thrust into a life she never wanted. Since the queen never bore a child, Ben is the heir to the throne. Without any consideration for the fact that she's mourning her parents, Ben is expected to pick up the role of lady-in-training. The queen is horrible to her, practically starving her and insisting that she prepare for her inevitable marriage (probably coming much too soon for Ben's liking).
But Princess Ben's not taking all this lying down. She's fiesty, thinking up ways to get back at her teachers and the abominable queen. And then she discovers the magic...
Catherine Gilbert Murdock's brought us a treat. Princess Ben is a real step away from Dairy Queen and The Off Season, but I'm pleased to report that it's awesome. Ben's a spunky heroine who undergoes some real changes as the book progresses. She uses her brain and disdains those who would judge her on her beauty. Ben can do whatever she puts her mind to, whether it's torturing her dance teacher or saving the kingdom from certain doom.
Murdock's created an intriguing fantasy world with a unique magic system. I won't go into it too much so that you can delight in discovering it for yourself, but it made me want to know more. Her world-building reminded me of Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl and Princess Academy (two books I also really loved).
Another delightful aspect of this fantasy novel are the bits of fairy tales hidden within. Murdock includes cameos of many familiar stories and it was such fun to discover them all.
Hand this one to fans of Gail Carson Levine (particularly Ella Enchanted and Fairest) and Shannon Hale. They won't be disappointed!
Peruse other reviews at Teen Book Review, Educating Alice, Sarah Miller's blog, and The Compulsive Reader.