Book Reviews

Book Review: Princesses Behaving Badly

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“Obviously, most little girls don’t grow up believing that life is all dress-up heels, fairy godmothers, and Prince Charmings. But the princess fantasy is one that we don’t ever really give up.”

TITLE & AUTHOR: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodríguez McRobbie

GENRE: Nonfiction/History/Short Stories

PUBLISHED : January 1st 2013, by Quirk Books

MY RATING: 3/5

 

 

And the author behaving badly.

Among the numerous collections of this kind sprouting up lately, this one caught my eye first because it was about princesses, and second because it promised the truth behind these women’s stories. It did turn out to be a collection of numerous stories about the real princesses and their, sometimes, gruesome and difficult lives, but the line between fact and fiction is very blurry here. The author often cites sources, both reliable and not, but more than often she tries to weave fictional stories around these women’s lives, with no evidence to support her claims.

It seems that the author couldn’t decide whether she was writing fiction or nonfiction. I expected the latter, since the book is marketed as such, so it’s no wonder I was annoyed at McRobbie’s constant interference with unsupported facts, bad jokes and overly colloquial terms.

“She also didn’t take any crap – she once beat her half brother Mbandi bloody after he stole her beaded necklace…” -I was kind of expecting a ‘woman need no man’ kind of line to show up.

Okay, I don’t really mind the crap, but this is just one of many examples where the author: 1. Doesn’t write consistently with the rest of the book, and 2. Seems to push a female empowerment of the totally wrong kind on her readers. In multiple stories I stumbled on similar lines, where a princess in question is doing unimaginable, disgusting things, and she is praised by the author. Is that what feminism is? Were these stories about men, and many men of that kind did exist throughout history and they still do, would we praise them or condemn them?

“It’s unlikely that she was ever initiated formally into the tribe, a gruesome ritual that involved the murder of a child.” –This is the author’s note on the same woman from the previous quote, concerning an initiation to Imbangala, a vicious band of mercenaries, concluding that this woman wouldn’t be involved into a murder of a child simply because she was a woman, when that same lady killed her 8 yo nephew on the previous page.

I’m digressing here, since it’s clear from the introduction that McRobbie’s main goal is to crush the princess myth; the fact that Disney Company glorified that title and turned it into something it almost never was, something little girls today look up to. Throughout the history, being a princess was rarely a lovely, beautiful thing, and the author successfully proved that point. It’s just that she did a very poor job of conveying it, and I cannot ignore that.

There are too many stories here to check the validity of each one, but the ones I did check were only half true. Some details are obviously added to interest or shock the reader, even some subtitles have a form of click-bait*, trying to make the story more interesting, and when you do read it you will realize that the title was either exaggerated or false. She also states multiple times that what you’ll read is probably not true, because the patriarchal historians weren’t too keen on female rulers, but what about the facts she added herself, without any kind of indication? What is true here and what is not is on the reader to decide.

“That Edward (II) had a lover wasn’t shocking, nor was it a big problem that his lover was a man.” -Ummm yes it was. Homosexuality used to be called sodomy, and it was condemned by the church, which equated it with heresy, even I know that much.

Throughout this collection, McRobbie tries to be funny, and she failed in that area too. Maybe it’s just the type of humor I don’t like, but it certainly feels unnecessary and simple.

“T-III, now in his mid-twenties, was more than ready to rock.” -The person here referred to as T-III is Tuthmosis III, how is this even funny?

On the brighter side, I actually did like this collection, as I would have liked an online article* on the subject: “30 fierce and dangerous princesses that kicked ass, read all about it!!!!”, which I would have forgotten the very next day. If it was written better, I would immensely enjoy it and buy it, but as it is I’ll just thank Netgalley for the advanced copy of the new and illustrated edition.

The main thing I liked was that it provided a peak into these women’s lives, collected in one place, and that some of my favorite women from history were mentioned, like Hatshepsut, Boudicca, Lucrezia Borgia, Queen Tomyris, Erzsébet Báthory, etc. I’ve also heard of some of these princesses for the first time, which will certainly lead me to more research and some better books on the subject, like I hope the Bygone Badass Broads by Mackenzi Lee is.

My favorite new discoveries are: Catherine Radziwill, the stalker princess; Sarah Winnemucca, whose autobiography was the first memoir written by a Native American woman; Caraboo, the fake princess who fooled the whole England; Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, still very much alive, who turned a personal tragedy and crisis over its head; etc. There are 30+ princesses (or not) in this collection who deserve being mentioned and read about, but hopefully next time in a book that’s written better.

So if you like interesting (I will not say powerful as it is not true for all of them) women from history, and if you don’t mind the gossip-column style* and unsavory jokes, I think this collection could be an interesting and quick read.

*Edit: I have just read that the author is actually a journalist, that explains a lot.

 

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18 thoughts on “Book Review: Princesses Behaving Badly

    1. Thanks! I did too, in the last third of the book actually. 😀 Well I couldn’t research each one, but it’s more speculative than inaccurate. I think you can still request it on Netgalley, so no need to buy it to try it out. 🙂

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  1. Tabloidy diction also irritates me, especially when you associate fairy tales with more elegant prose :/ Off topic but it’s partly why the new Pottermore is so disappointing. If they’re going to have an ‘official’ news source on the Harry Potter universe at least write as compellingly as Rowling does

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    1. Me too, especially cause in my country that is several levels worse in “journalism” and media, so why push that into history and legends? :/

      I like you sidenote haha but what do you mean? When they changed from the game format to what it is now? Cause I was sorely disappointed I can tell you that. I read all the original writings which you would discover within scenes, but on the new one I read maybe 4-5 writings and I noticed the difference too. Also, I had to choose my house, wand, etc. all over again cause the ones I had for years just vanished ugh. -.- :/

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      1. Precisely! The old one was restricted to just unpublished writings by Rowling, which obviously maintained the same level of wonderful prose.

        I mean, sure I missed the beautiful interactive illustrations, but I would have been more fine with it if they at least kept the new format from being all Rita Skeeter-y! That was the final nail in the coffin for me :/

        And yes same! I had to be resorted and everything too, ugh 😦

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  2. Erm why do people think it’s cool to praise people doing bad stuff? I mean, just because someone’s a woman doesn’t make doing evil stuff “empowerment”- it’s just evil (sorry rant over, point is, that would’ve bothered me too) Umm I have legit *no idea* where she got the idea that people were cool with kings having different sexual orientations. Honestly, it just sounds like the author was making things up- and I don’t really know why (surely it doesn’t help the LGBT community to pretend things were just rosy in the past and everyone was super liberal? I just don’t get this rewriting of history?!) Anyway, great review!

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    1. Well, the first problem is that the author is not a writer at all but a journalist, hence the ‘ye will be shocked’ subtitles and facts. Second, she did a poor research which reminded me of my bachelor’s degree. I was doing a children’s book as a project, BUT I also had to do a huge paper on it. So I remember googling a lot, copy-pasting information, and then editing so the words felt like mine, not like I plainly stole the facts. So, stupid me, I inserted some bad puns, ‘beautified’ the content, and just connected everyting into a wholesome piece by adding stuff that’s not 100% true, in an effort to save time and work on my actual children’s book. That is exactly what I felt the author did here! Except, you know, this is her only project and not something she needed to rush to get done, and this is a book that people will buy, for Christ’s sake! I like that last thing you said about LGBT community, I was actually thinking about that! What would some of them feel while reading this? Like everything was cool back then and now it’s not that good, while it’s the exact opposite, or we’re getting there at least.. The point being, author is a journalist, and probably overly used to write gossip columns. -.- Wish I knew that before reading this. And thanks!

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      1. That’s really frustrating that it’s so poorly researched (particularly for a book based on history!) And it does sound like she’s gone for a lot of tabloidy shock value here. (hehe your story about what you did for your bachelor’s degree reminds me of all the write ups I had to do on my art projects at school- I have never written such bilge before or since 😉 ) Yeah for sure- I can’t see how this would be helpful. And it sounds like that :/ You’re welcome!

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        1. Yeah, specifically because of my bachelor’s experience I kind of had a feeling I could have written this the same (or better), which is not a compliment since I suck as a writer 😀 Haha I can relate, I just wanted to draw, the essays and other tedious writing was just unnecessary if you ask me :/ Well, we’ll just forget this nasty, I have a better book on this subject which I’ll read/review soon 😀

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  3. Good review. One of the things that I hate is when strength in women is considered to be based off of masculine ideals i.e. their ability to be prone to violence and hold skill in fighting. Yes, strength can take the physical form but women in history aren’t exactly known for their excellent sword fighting skills (well there are a few!) but actually hold strength of a different kind. That kind is considered to be more ‘female’ as it’s emotional/ intellectual and I suppose the overall masses find that quite boring.

    Women in popular culture who can show strength via fighting prowess are often considerably more popular than those who show strength another way. I always think of this as the ‘Sansa Stark’ problem – Arya is considerably more popular because she has masculine tendencies i.e. fighting while Sansa does not. On a lesser degree I’ve also found this in the ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ series when it comes to Feyre vs. Nesta or Elain.

    The opinions I’ve read in both fandoms (I feel) are indicative of the overall attitude to women and sadly it seems that this writer adheres to that – princesses of history are only worth writing about if they can match men by violence. Some have because that’s the only way they could survive in their society but the women that survived in different ways also deserve to be written about.

    I actually quite enjoy – http://www.rejectedprincesses.com/ – I’ve followed them for a while and though I haven’t read the books yet I have them on my list. They talk about a variety of women and I quite like their style!

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    1. Agree 100%! Very well said, I wish I could have expressed my opinions in a better way, but I suck as a writer. 😀 Yes, the choice of ladies could have been better here as most of these women, especially in the first third of the book, are praised for their atrocities over men (and even children), but there are some like Sarah Winnemucca who used her intelligence and skills to help her people. Some are famous for owning 15 000 dresses, sleeping with hundreds of men, and keeping male concubines in drag, come on. That site is really interesting, I’ll have to read more there, since this gossip book is probably only half true, thanks! 🙂

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  4. Fabulous review, Marina, and you pinpoint quite a few of the most problematic elements of feminist writing (or should I say ”pseudo-feminist”). I think this kind of language on the part of the writer debases the point of the whole work. You voiced many of my concerns and the reasons why I am hesitant to read similar books although you know this one has been on my list for quite some time.

    “That Edward (II) had a lover wasn’t shocking, nor was it a big problem that his lover was a man.”
    I can’t believe such a sentence was included in a book….You’ve said it perfectly!

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    1. Thank you Amalia! I know this book isn’t clearly stated as feminist but it’s obvious that the author had that in mind, so I had issues with that as it’s not done right. Some of these women killed or abandoned their children; stole money and slept with hundreds of men; did even more gruesome and unimaginable things – is that something we should look up to? Just because it was okay for men to do it? That’s a contrary logic if you ask me.

      Even though I’ve read and watched a lot of historical books/shows/movies, I somehow missed Edward II and Isabella, but when I read that line and several other absurd ones in this same story I had to google it, and I know that Wikipedia isn’t a 100% reliable source, but the author clearly invented these facts for show.

      All that put aside, I still liked the collection for the mere fact that it has stories about 30+ of these women, and I probably wouldn’t read about many of them ever if not for this, and when I managed to turn a blind eye – I actually enjoyed the stories. If I had the time and patience to google each one, I think I would’ve been even more disappointed. :/

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