Title: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings
Author: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Audiobook Length: 10 hours, 31 minutes
Origins: Random House Audio
Release Date: 19 November 2013
Bottom Line: Educational and oh-so-entertaining
“You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many 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 Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating listen for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.”
Thoughts: For every princess who married the prince and lived happily ever after, there are scores of princesses who did not. In Princesses Behaving Badly, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie seeks to show just how cruel, and oftentimes dangerous, life as a princess can be. The stories presented do much to offset the fairy tale effect with these true-life tales of the manipulative, the power-hungry, the insane, as well as the weak, the lonely, and the powerless. There are plenty of heroines as well, those princesses who more than live up to their title.
Divided up into sections, each section has its own theme, into which all of the princesses mentioned have similar characteristics. Each of the princesses in the sections intersect the globe and cross history, proving once again that the more things change, the more things stay the same. The individual stories of the princesses are relatively short, getting right to the point by limiting the political, social, economic, and historical backdrop presented. Ms. Rodriguez McRobbie presents just enough of a backstory for readers to understand a particular princess’ situation. Given that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books written about each and every one of these princesses, the fact that she is able to compact so much into a fairly short book is quite the feat.
There is a massive amount of historical information Ms. Rodriguez McRobbie presents throughout her stories, but at no point in time does the narrative drag, nor is it confusing or incomplete. One could use Princesses Behaving Badly as a jumping off point for further research into any one of the princesses she mentions, but her stories are so thorough that one can simply read them and feel confident that she hit on the main points. More importantly, Princesses Behaving Badly is a fair portrayal of these historical women. She seeks not to vilify or condemn these women for their actions but rather celebrates them for their own strengths and weaknesses, using up-to-date research to further her argument. She does not seek to repeat the sordid histories but aims for a just picture of each woman, whether that woman bathed in the blood of virgins, slaughtered thousands as revenge for the death of her husband, used her son’s minority status to gain power and rule the country, fight for independence, or even just survive her family’s political ambitions.
Cassandra Campbell does a fantastic job narrating Princesses Behaving Badly. There is many a wry note of sarcasm written into the narrative, and Ms. Campbell captures it perfectly without overdoing it. Her voice is pleasant, her phrasing is perfect, and she is able to add a bit of personality to what could have been a dry reading. Her performance is such that it is as if Ms. Rodriguez McRobbie wrote the book with her audiobook performance in mind.
In an effort to disprove the Disney way of thinking, Princesses Behaving Badly explores the not-so-happily-ever-after situations of princesses across the globe and throughout history. This thoroughly-researched tale is fascinating in the stories it tells, enthralling in its scope, and enormously enjoyable. Ms. Rodriguez McRobbie has fun with her subject matter, adding levity in the more gruesome situations but maintaining the right amount of gravitas when the situation warrants it. Meant to entertain as well as educate, Princesses Behaving Badly shows that those Disney princesses are pale imitations of their real-life counterparts.