I’m No Longer Interested in Reading about Princesses (and I Hope It’s Temporary)

Princess Books

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!

Briana

45 thoughts on “I’m No Longer Interested in Reading about Princesses (and I Hope It’s Temporary)

  1. Kelly | Another Book in the Wall says:

    I love how you brought up how nice it was that the Rebel of the Sands books didn’t have a protagonist who was royalty, and instead focused on supporter of his. I’ve been reading too many novels with princesses lately and have frankly, gotten bored of them to a certain extent. Perhaps it’s cause I haven’t read a great book from this genre in a while, but I’ve been gearing more towards books with other protagonists. Lovely post! ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  2. alilovesbooks says:

    Having just finished Ash Princess I’m starting to feel the same. I think for me though it’s just been done to death and there’s very little that’s new or exciting.

    I see you’ve pictured Queen’s Rising, have you read it? That one took me a little by surprise as it’s not really about a princess despite what the title suggests. It’s much more along the lines of Rebel of the Sands now I think of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes! So many of the princess books sound the same! I realize that I like retold fairy tales, which often have princesses, but maybe I’m expecting those books to sound like other books, so that’s fine?

      I haven’t read The Queen’s Rising, but my co-blogger has. I kind of just wanted a third picture to add to the post, even though it doesn’t technically fit the theme. :p

      Liked by 1 person

      • Krysta says:

        It’s been too long for me to remember exactly, but I think The Queen’s Rising still features hereditary magic with the queens primarily wielding it, so it might actually fit into your category of “books that are annoying because the plebeians can’t use magic.”

        Like

  3. R.K. Lander says:

    This is a very interesting topic. Personally I haven’t read those books but I am just wondering, were they written in first person? I do believe that I can see a definite trend going on in royalty books in general but specifically when the MC is a female, one that I, personally, do not enjoy at all. In part, I think this is because of the borderline social discrimination that lurks just beneath the surface, as you mention, but also, I can’t help feeling that a good number of these MCs are self-inserts, way too focussed on the princess and not on the story itself, hence the question of whether they were written in first person. Just an impression which is susceptible to debate.

    Liked by 1 person

      • R.K. Lander says:

        Oh WONDERFUL!! Thank you!!! I never found anyone that agreed with me on that one. You’re right, a lot of YA fantasy is first person and I am not keen on that. I feel it limits the story and makes character development much less interesting, but that’s a personal preference. So when I suddenly get that feeling that the author is writing himself/herself, and everything revolves around that one character, even the POV – well, you either LOVE that one character, or you lose interest.

        Like

        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          Throne of Glass made SO MUCH more sense to me when I learned Maas had written the first draft when she was about sixteen. I know she probably revised it a lot before actual publication, but it really still reads like a teen writing a Mary Sue character who looks like the author and is just talented at everything. (I might be speaking from experience dabbling in creative writing when I was a teen. That is very in line with what I was doing with my writing!)

          Yes, I think there’s an overstated idea in YA publishing that first person makes the narrative “personal,” but I’d love to see more people base their choice of POV more on what the plot requires and less on what seems to be trendy or just a general feeling of “Well, people will be invested in the protagonist if it’s first person.” I kind of like limited third person points of view myself, partially because I think people can get carried away with an omniscient third person and just info-dump.

          Liked by 1 person

          • R.K. Lander says:

            Yes, but I think info dumping can be done in any voice. Interesting what you say about Maas? Maybe I should go to book two and try that but she really does sound like a young teen writing herself. I didn’t like her MC in book one. I found her immature, hissy and irrational, which does now make sense.
            I actually think third person gives MORE character depth, not less, at least potentially.

            Like

        • Krysta says:

          I’m not a fan of first person, either, especially the first-person present tense that tends to dominate YA. I think the prose often sounds awkward with the character narrating everything they do as they do it. “I brush my teeth and walk down the stairs. I sit at the table and pour a bowl of cereal.” Ugh! And it takes away a good deal of suspense. It’s harder for me to believe something terrible is going to happen if the protagonist needs to be around to tell the story.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. pendantry says:

    Americans don’t like nobility, right?

    That sounds right… except that here in the UK we just yesterday had a royal marriage of a prince and princess, and I’m willing to bet that a fair few USAns watched it on the telly.

    Back on topic: what do you think of The Princess Bride?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Hmmm, good point! Maybe we like the idea that other people have nobility! :p

      I think it’s not my sense of humor. I like it, but I don’t really understand the obsession with it. But, it is an EXCELLENT example of a princess book that feels very original!

      Liked by 1 person

      • pendantry says:

        I wasn’t that impressed the first time I watched the movie. But after the second viewing, I began to really enjoy it. (The book is better than the movie… as is often the case.)

        Like

      • Krysta says:

        Americans do have a fascination with marrying royals. Look at all the Hallmark movies where the average American woman marries a foreign prince! The recent royal wedding was like a Hallmark film came true. Yes, I think everyone was going to watch it. 😉

        But, still, it does seem that Americans primarily appreciate nobility in stories. Or maybe they just appreciate the feeling of wealth and celebrity that comes with it. After all, many have argued that the U.S. has nobility–they’re just called “the rich.”

        The Princess Bride is a great film! I’ve only read the book once and that was good, too, but definitely not as streamlined as the film.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Krysta says:

    Heart of Ash, a sci-fi retelling of Anastasia, has a similar premise: only members of the royal family can touch the iron crown and have it not rust. Why? I don’t know. Why can’t extended family members do the same? Again, I don’t know.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Lori says:

    Really timely discussion piece.

    I’ve long been skeptical of picking up many of the popular YA titles that feature princess protagonists and I think this post gets close to explaining why. I too like the idea of a princess protagonist, but I think seeing one who is already in a position of power (but maybe prevented somehow from taking it) from the outset may be what I dislike.

    I’m not a big fan of the “poor little rich girl/boy” trope, I worry that these books may utilize it. Maybe, more generally speaking, it is that we want to see characters who earn it…I don’t know if that’s the American in me talking though…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, I think that can be a problem. I get that rich/powerful/successful people have problems, too, but it can be kind of irritating to read about a character who’s griping because their crown just doesn’t have enough gems in it. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    Yes! I 100% agree with you, Briana. I am tired that there is a ruling class who has kept themselves in power all these years by inbreeding their magical powers. I want to read the book about the milkmaid! I love exploring the weaknesses in royalty and why they *aren’t* all suited to read. In fact, I find YA prince/princess heroes to be dull. They are all the same. Can’t we have one who is near-sighted and would rather write epic poems? Who abdicates their throne to save the masses?

    Like

  8. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    I think you made such an interesting point about social conditioning- because I think that explains why I’m pretty “meh” about royalty in books (basically living in a constitutional monarchy that I don’t totally agree with makes me like the books where the royals end up giving up power to the people or something like that 😉 ) Anyway, a bit random example, but I see your point!

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I think I’m fickle because I feel like I actually have been seeing more books where the new royalty gives up their power to form a democracy, and THAT is kind of annoying to me too? A couple times in a couple books it’s interesting. When it looks like a trend in publishing, I guess I feel like, “Yeah, I get it. I live in America. The spread of democracy to all peoples is the ultimate good. Down with the monarchy! *eye roll*” :p

      Liked by 1 person

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        haha fair enough! I think I’ve not seen that much of it, but that can get old fast. I guess writers kind of agree that royalty doesn’t go too well with modern sensibilities, so they write out the royalty they created. hahaha!

        Like

      • Krysta says:

        I just realized that when they revived the Cinderella musical in 2013 they added an entire subplot about the people being mad about their social condition (not shown, can’t say what’s actually happening) and wanting to talk to the prince. The result is that the prince holds an election where the current (evil?) Prime Minister can run against the populist speechmaker. No real policy changes are announced and the Prime Minster who created many of the social problems is allowed to run like he’s not why everyone’s ticked off. The result is that the play suggests that policy changes are not what makes a country a nice place to live. Rather, it is the mere presence of of an election!

        Like

  9. Ashley says:

    I know exactly what you mean! And I absolutely ADORE princess books!!! So now I have to look for more amusing storylines or retellings. It’s tough right now. I’m not sure if I’m bored of them as well or if it’s the way they are portraying them in books lately. Crossing my fingers that some really good ones will be on their way out to publishing in the near future.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, I am definitely open to well-done princess books! Even after writing the post and thinking through my reactions, I’m not 100% sure what my issue has been with the princess books I’ve been reading, but I hope to find some I love soon!

      Like

  10. Never Not Reading says:

    What’s so funny about this is that I’m rather umopinionated about royalty in books, I’ll like or dislike it based on other things regardless of princess-ness. But I’m OBSESSED with princess movies. Disney or live action, doesn’t matter. I think it’s because I like the pretty dresses so much.

    Not YA or about a princess, but I recently read The Goblin Emperor, and I thought it did the royalty thing extremely well.

    Like

  11. highonlollypops says:

    Do you like to watch much anime, by any chance? I completely agree with you re the overuse of the powers ordained by god and the seriously overpowered royal family way princesses seem to be getting portrayed as.

    One of the things that I like about anime like Scrapped Princess and The Irregular in Magic High School is that the everyone in their world is capable of magic, some just happen to be more talented than others. Also they have worlds that have very grey morality so that they show everyone having their own agendas and the “bad guys” aren’t that bad.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Annemieke says:

    I completely understand what you mean.
    The Seven Realm books by Cinda Williams Chima has a princess but it also focuses on another character which gave a great insight on the world and everything else.

    Like

  13. Cam @ Camillea Reads says:

    This is an interesting thought! There’s been a sudden surge of royalty/nobility tropes in YA recently that it no longer feels like a unique concept? I prefer books that, even with nobles in it focus on other characters, like in Rosemarked we follow a healer, or in Isle of Blood & Stone, it’s a mapmaker!

    Like

  14. abucketfullofbookreviews says:

    I’ve had a similar problem lately, for me I think it’s just that all of them seem the same and so I’ve just been getting bored of them. There’s also hardly any characters I find myself relating to so I feel your struggle 😀

    Like

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