I am twenty-five years old and I still adore princesses. Most particularly, I adore the spunky, kick-butt princesses who Go Out and Do Things. Who do I like? I like Addie of Bamarre and Cinder/Selene, Celaena Sardothien and Queen Bitterblue, Elisa with her Godstone and Raisa with her Grey Wolf Throne, Moana sailing into the unknown and Rapunzel shaking off her lifelong abuser. I can't get enough of them. But these are fictional women, and there have been plenty of bad-ass women in history who haven't gotten a lot of attention, so I was super excited to read Princesses Behaving Badly and get an insight into some of them.
The book is divided into seven sections and each focuses on a different "type" of princess: Warriors, Usurpers, Schemers, Survivors, Partiers, Floozies, and Madwomen. Obviously there is some crossover between these categories, and several of them are pretty derogatory terms, which made me raise an eyebrow when I encountered them. Yes, the women in this book were flaunting convention for their places and times--otherwise they wouldn't have been behaving badly. But to term them "floozies" and "madwomen" seemed a bit harsh. Each part of the book then features several mini-biographies of princesses who the author has deemed to fit that category, each of which took about five to ten minutes to read, and also a few shorter sections that could skim over a topic, like so-called American "dollar princesses" who married European nobility on the basis of their money, with a paragraph or so devoted to each woman in that short section. Real, born princesses are covered but also women who pretended to be princesses, possessed positions similar to that of princesses in societies that didn't have princess roles, and women who married up to become princesses.
What struck me most about this book, however, were two things. First, it's so surface level. I think I would have preferred fewer but more in-depth sections about a selection of the women here; I didn't expect the book to be comprehensive, there's just too much to cover, but it seems like even so it really did a disservice to some of these women by skimming over their lives at such a high level, doing very little to cover their motivations, circumstances, desires, etc. And second, the book kind of had a derogatory tone in general to it. While I've already pointed out some of the questionable words selected, many of the stories about women who didn't really do anything wrong had this overarching tone of, "Well, she got what was coming to her." Which...what? Yes, maybe Elizabeth of Bathory deserved to be bricked up in a tower--she might have killed up to 650 people, after all--but Lakshmibai, covered in the "Warriors" chapter? She got forced into a terrible situation, dealt with it the best she could, and then got killed in battle. And yet there's no sympathy at all in this tale, just a, "Well, that's what happens when you do that stuff" sort of feeling. Yes, this was a book that explicitly said "without the happy endings" in the subtitle, but the tone in which these were covered rubbed me the wrong way.
Overall, a very surface-level book that I think serves mainly to direct one to the Wikipedia articles about some of these women; Wiki probably covers many of them in much more depth than the book does. Wiki probably has better sources cited than this one, too. It brings to light some remarkable women throughout history but is baffling irreverent towards their struggles and accomplishments instead opting for snark and disparaging terms and a tone of "well she must have deserved it" for the not-so-happy endings.
3 stars out of 5, and mainly just for bringing some light to these princesses.