Published by Quirk Books on November 19th, 2013
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You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, and you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But real princesses didn't always get happy endings. Sure, plenty were graceful and benevolent leaders, but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power—and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elisabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev slaughtered her way to sainthood while Princess Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers true tales of all these princesses and dozens more in a fascinating read that's pefect for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.
I first heard of this book when I came across a post on Tumblr all about Isabella, the She Wolf of France. The way the poster wrote Isabella’s story, framed in a positive light, was intriguing to me, and so I wanted to read more. Then I found out it was actually from a book called Princesses Behaving Badly and I was sold. I immediately bought the book, and though I’m a little bit underwhelmed, I’m so happy I did.
I guess I mainly take issue with how this book was written. The one excerpt I read was interesting and snappy, but on the whole, the book felt a little too informal and almost like a tabloid. Even though I know the author’s intent was to get away from the sensational and stick to the truth, this didn’t really come through in the text.
I was also confused about the inclusion of princesses from folklore. Don’t get me wrong – I was very much intrigued by these stories and I love discovering fairy tales and folklore that I hadn’t known about before. However, since the title says Real Stories I thought we’d be sticking with, you know, real stories.
All that said, I very much enjoyed Princesses Behaving Badly. It opened my eyes to a lot of women’s stories that I had never heard before simply because men wrote them out of the history books. I found this book especially inspirational when it comes to my fiction writing – I love retellings, and I think it would be fun to write one that wasn’t yet another Beauty and the Beast tale.
In all, I would absolutely recommend Princesses Behaving Badly. I think a lot of your enjoyment will come from what you expect this book to be – if you’re expecting 100%, indisputable facts about 100% indisputably real women, that won’t happen. What you will get is a sometimes funny, other times shocking, look into yes, real women from history, and also women from fairy tales who have broken the confines of the patriarchal society around them and behaved badly.