I’ve only read a few YA books with princess protagonists in the past couple months (Dark Breaks the Dawn and Ash Princess come to mind), but I’ve noticed a troubling personal reaction: I didn’t like them. This came as a genuine surprise to me because, if asked, I probably would have said I loved princess books. I enjoyed reading them as a child, and I like all the things that come with princess stories—power, opulence, the chance for a character to have a real impact because they’re going to rule a country. But reading princess books recently (particularly YA, as opposed to MG), I found myself frustrated and bored.
On one level, maybe a princess protagonist is too “obvious.” Maybe in my mind I’m thinking that it’s just too convenient or too overdone that the author chose this character for the focus of a book, and that things would be a lot more interesting if they focused on someone else. (The Rebel of the Sands books, for instance, work really well by featuring a protagonist who is supporting a prince leading a rebellion, rather than on the prince himself.) Of course princesses have power, so maybe what I really want to hear about is the chief political advisor, or the general, or the woman who milks the royal cows!
However, I think I’m also pushing back against the idea that royalty have inherent powers that other people don’t. In princess books, the royal family seem to be in power not because of politics or a rebellion or just a weird accident of fate; they’re in power because they hold [insert some wildly powerful magical ability the poor plebeians can never have], and that irritates me.
Perhaps my societal conditioning has me grating against this idea. Americans don’t like nobility, right? And there’s probably something to be said about millennial attitudes here. Maybe it smacks too much of “divine right of kings,” implying that these people inherently should rule because their bloodline, in fact, does make them inherently better than other people.
However, I think my real problem is that I’m not convinced that this idea actually makes sense. I like magic systems in books where magic is genetic but widely spread throughout the kingdom’s people, and I like magic systems where one can learn magic or acquire it through an external source. But the idea that only the royal family has magic (or a particularly powerful manifestation of the book’s form of magic) is weird to me. If it’s genetic within the royal family, there should be someone besides the current rulers and their direct heirs who have it. Cousins? Bastard children in the country? Someone?
Whatever my issue is, I hope I can resolve it soon, or otherwise find a YA book that does a princess character really well. Leave me your recommendations in the comments!