The Ordinary Princess, M.M. Kaye

I am so pleased I got this book!  I got it in hardback!  For eight dollars!  At Bongs & Noodles, totally unexpectedly!  This, and jPod, and a hardback of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (I know, right?), and a nice new copy of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and The Annotated Alice (the annotations are ever so interesting), and for twenty dollars altogether total, all seven of the Chronicles of Narnia on CD, read by cool people like Lynn Redgrave and Kenneth Branagh.  But of all these things, I am the most pleased with The Ordinary Princess.

The eponymous princess, Amy, is the youngest of seven princesses, each more beautiful than the last.  At her christening, the water fairy Crustacea comes and announces “You shall be ordinary!”  Which is just what Amy grows up to be, mousy hair and freckles and a turned-up nose, and when she’s of marriageable age nobody wants to marry her, and what with one thing and another she runs away and gets a job as a scullery maid in another kingdom.  There she meets a very agreeable man-of-all-work called Perry, and on their days off, they hang out in the forest feeding nuts to squirrels and building a little cottage for themselves.  (Until all is discovered.)

M.M. Kaye is so mysterious.  She wrote two books about India, Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions, which I really enjoyed.  She wrote a series of mysteries, which I found terribly tedious.  She wrote a book called Trade Winds in which the protagonist gets raped and falls in love with her rapist and they live happily ever after, which I’m not even going to get into because it makes me so furious.  And then she wrote The Ordinary Princess, the loveliest book ever.

I can see how this book would sound totally saccharine – Amy hums merry songs while she does her drudgery work, and she has animal friends with names that follow her around.  She talks to her wisteria vine and likes picking wildflowers with the local maidens.  This talking to plants and animals and frolicking in meadows tends to be the sort of thing about which my mother puts on her old lady voice and snaps “Too sweet to be wholesome!”  EXCEPT THAT, M.M. Kaye obviously decided that every time she started to be saccharine, she would stop being saccharine and be AWESOME instead.

True story.

Moreover, in case this story wasn’t already genius enough (it was), M.M. Kaye illustrated it herself, and I have rarely read a book in which the illustrations went so well with the story.  Not even The Ghost of Opalina.  Amy looks exactly like you’d think she would – ordinary.  Not ugly.  Just ordinary.  And Perry, who is introduced as “the nice young man” looks like an exactly nice young man.  I would go out with Perry.  He offers her illicit ice cream, and makes her a necklace out of acorn cups.

I can’t imagine why anyone would not like The Ordinary Princess.  Do you have books like that, where you really can’t see any reason for anybody, ever, to dislike it?  Is it because they’re stunningly good, or because they’re just friendly and likeable?