The Ordinary Princess, M.M. Kaye

I am so pleased I got this book!  I got it in hardback!  For eight dollars!  At Bongs & Noodles, totally unexpectedly!  This, and jPod, and a hardback of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (I know, right?), and a nice new copy of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and The Annotated Alice (the annotations are ever so interesting), and for twenty dollars altogether total, all seven of the Chronicles of Narnia on CD, read by cool people like Lynn Redgrave and Kenneth Branagh.  But of all these things, I am the most pleased with The Ordinary Princess.

The eponymous princess, Amy, is the youngest of seven princesses, each more beautiful than the last.  At her christening, the water fairy Crustacea comes and announces “You shall be ordinary!”  Which is just what Amy grows up to be, mousy hair and freckles and a turned-up nose, and when she’s of marriageable age nobody wants to marry her, and what with one thing and another she runs away and gets a job as a scullery maid in another kingdom.  There she meets a very agreeable man-of-all-work called Perry, and on their days off, they hang out in the forest feeding nuts to squirrels and building a little cottage for themselves.  (Until all is discovered.)

M.M. Kaye is so mysterious.  She wrote two books about India, Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions, which I really enjoyed.  She wrote a series of mysteries, which I found terribly tedious.  She wrote a book called Trade Winds in which the protagonist gets raped and falls in love with her rapist and they live happily ever after, which I’m not even going to get into because it makes me so furious.  And then she wrote The Ordinary Princess, the loveliest book ever.

I can see how this book would sound totally saccharine – Amy hums merry songs while she does her drudgery work, and she has animal friends with names that follow her around.  She talks to her wisteria vine and likes picking wildflowers with the local maidens.  This talking to plants and animals and frolicking in meadows tends to be the sort of thing about which my mother puts on her old lady voice and snaps “Too sweet to be wholesome!”  EXCEPT THAT, M.M. Kaye obviously decided that every time she started to be saccharine, she would stop being saccharine and be AWESOME instead.

True story.

Moreover, in case this story wasn’t already genius enough (it was), M.M. Kaye illustrated it herself, and I have rarely read a book in which the illustrations went so well with the story.  Not even The Ghost of Opalina.  Amy looks exactly like you’d think she would – ordinary.  Not ugly.  Just ordinary.  And Perry, who is introduced as “the nice young man” looks like an exactly nice young man.  I would go out with Perry.  He offers her illicit ice cream, and makes her a necklace out of acorn cups.

I can’t imagine why anyone would not like The Ordinary Princess.  Do you have books like that, where you really can’t see any reason for anybody, ever, to dislike it?  Is it because they’re stunningly good, or because they’re just friendly and likeable?

  • I thought this book was such a treat. I haven’t read anything else by the author.

  • jennysbooks

    Her other books are really, really, really unlike this one. The two I like, The Far Pavilions and Shadow of the Moon, are these massive tragic romantic books about the sepoy rebellion in India. They go pretty fast, lots of exciting India things happening in the run-up to the sepoy rebellion. But I really like books about the British Raj, it’s fascinating to me.

  • Alison

    I agree, Jenny. I love Raj India, and the Far Pavilions may be one of my favorite books ever. They are not pretty, intimate stories like Ordinary Princess, they are massive and sweeping.

    • jennysbooks

      Definitely! And I haven’t found very many other Raj books that I’ve liked as well – I’m sure they’re out there, I just haven’t found them yet. Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown was very interesting, and I’m about to read the sequel to that. Do you have other favorites? I’m always in the market for a recommendation or two!

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  • Julia Rae

    Thank you for this review! I read this book when I was younger but had forgotten the title. I just remembered that her name was Amy and of course the book’s content. Thanks to your description I can find and read it again!

    • Aw, yay! I hate it when I can’t think of a book properly, to track it down and read it again. I hope you’re able to find it – it seems to be back in print in the UK, though I am not sure about the US. If not in the US, The Book Depository (www.thebookdepository.co.uk) ships free worldwide.

  • Jade Catton

    I just read it, and loved it so much! I felt as though I was 7 again having all my fears about not being pretty enough washed away. What a perfect book for little girls (and the grown up ones too!)

    • Isn’t it dear? I love it when she first meets Perry, and they have ice cream together in the great dining hall. Such a nice, comfortable scene.

  • This book has been a favorite of mine since I was 9. It is actually the first book I reviewed on my recently started blog. (http://inaquietcorner.wordpress.com)

    I recently handed it to my roommate telling her she needed to read it. She’s only the hiring of the dragon and she loves it. I think that this is a book that people cannot help loving.

    I just love the combination of traditional fairy tale with an independent woman. Amy is the heroine we can all see a little of ourselves in. She shows that we can all find happiness in life, when we create it.

    I’m so glad people love this book as much as I do. In my normal circles I am the only person I know who has even read it. I haven’t had a chance to read anything else by M.M. Kaye but I hope to soon.

    ~*~Nyssa Mead