Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Princess Academy

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
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's review
Dec 27, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: 2010, childrens, fantasy
Read in January, 2010 — I own a copy

The linder quarries on Mount Eskel make for hard labour, but the villagers who mine it wouldn't trade their life for anything. The linder stone takes skill to extract in whole blocks from the mountainside, and its qualities enable them to converse without speaking.

Fourteen year old Miri wants nothing so much as to join her father and older sister in the quarry. But she's small, and her father has forbidden her to set foot in the quarry. Instead, Miri tends the goats; teases her childhood friend, Peder; and wishes on the little miri flowers that she was named after to be allowed to work with everyone else in the quarry.

But everything changes the day the traders arrive for the last time before winter, bringing with them an official from the capital of Dunland - a messenger from the King. It has long been a tradition that the priests name the city from which the prince and heir to the throne must choose his bride. This time, causing great shock amongst the noble families of Dunland, the priests have named Mount Eskel - so overlooked it's not even considered a province of Dunland.

And so, further down the mountain in an abandoned stone manor house, the Princess Academy is established. Usually a formality, this time the girls aged thirteen to seventeen really must be trained - taught to read and write, how to walk and talk, about history and geography, diplomacy and economics.

Most of the girls don't want to become princess, and their families need them back in the village and quarry, but even so, competition sparks amongst them. Who will be princess? Could Miri, who does so well at her studies and was able to make the prince smile, be the one? (And what about Peder?) Yet when a threat comes to the Academy, curtseys and platitudes won't save them - only wits, mountain strength and Miri's determination.

This is the first Hale book I've read, and arguably her most popular one. It wasn't what I expected, but really it was better than I expected. It's one of those quiet fantasy books, like General Winston’s Daughter - nothing showy, no loud magic tricks or evil sorcerers or that tedious battle between good and evil (yawn). It also didn't follow those boring fantasy clichés that so many authors seem to enjoy perpetuating - a patriarchal social structure, for instance. Men and women work alongside each other in the quarry, and respect each other. Gender doesn't come into it. I got the impression that, despite classic hierarchies and class divisions, the rest of Dunland is much the same. The setting still had that typical medieval flavour, but with new angles and greater equality. Since it's Fantasy, not historical fiction, this is precisely the kind of thing I want to see - and don't get enough of.

The story is also disarmingly simple in its style - the prose has that lovely, unburdened quality that's usual in YA and Children's fiction - no fancy adjectives, no heavy-handed descriptions, no long-winded paragraphs: light on its feet, detailed and yet deceptively straight-forward. Perfect for its target age group (9-12) but just as enjoyable for the rest of us.

I loved Miri: she was a sympathetic character, a resourceful, intelligent, spirited girl you could really admire. She makes a great role model. The other girls weren't as fleshed-out as I'd have liked, but their characters still came through in small ways. The plot wasn't predictable, and the ending was very sweet. I also loved the small role economics plays in the story, not to mention the power an education gives you - Miri uses her hard-won knowledge from the Academy to improve her village's ability to trade, thus improving the quality of life on the mountain as well as their bargaining power. See, it's educational as well as a fun read!
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02/17/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Lisa Vegan Oh good. I didn't think I'd have time to get to this one but I have it from the library, and it looks as though I'll have time to read it next week.

Jackie "the Librarian" This book is far better than its generic, princess-y title suggests. I love that it isn't predictable, and that Miri takes advantage of her education.
I love your description of youth literature, Shannon. :)

Shannon (Giraffe Days) The title is a bit daggy isn't it? It kind of put me off but I'm glad I did decide to read it!

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