November 18, 2012

Review: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Published: 2005, Bloomsbury USA
Series: Princess Academy, #1
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Source: Personal ebook

"Maybe the priests did know what they were doing. Maybe Mount Eskel didn't need a princess, just an academy."

After reading Shannon Hale's enchanting take on the Grimm's fairy tale in her novel The Goose Girl (my review), I was eager to read a completely novel creation of hers. Although the story is reliant on some fairy-tale tropes and general ideas, it is still very much a new story. When I was looking for something a little more hopeful and happy as my next read, I remembered that I purchased this for my Kindle. My experience of reading Princess Academy was a happy one: it was the right book for me at the right time.

Mount Eskel is home to a small quarry and mining community in the mountainous region of Danland. The citizens of Mount Eskel quarry linder, a beautiful and rare stone, and trade their work for food and other supplies with the few merchants who are willing to take the hike up the mountainside. Their work may not be easy, but the villagers are content with their lives. Their simple lives get turned upside-down, however, when the royal priests divine that the crown prince's future wife will be one of the mountain girls.

All girls aged twelve to seventeen are sent to a newly-created princess academy, where they will spend the next year learning everything about nobility, from reading, writing, diplomacy, poise, politics, commerce, history, and more. Some girls are eager to leave their home and learn new things while others are more reluctant. Protagonist Miri, who has never worked in the quarry and therefore never quite felt like she fit in with everyone else at home, is nevertheless torn between staying with her father and older sister, and learning at the academy. Life at the academy presents its own difficulties as the girls struggle to become civilized and figure out what they want out of their lives.

It was difficult for me to resist comparisons between Miri and Ani, Hale's protagonist from The Goose Girl. Both lack self-confidence, mainly due to a parent's treatment of her, both are genuinely good and have a strong sense of morality, and both master the ability to communicate in some mysterious way. Honestly, it was this magical communication that made me take a metaphoric step backwards. In The Goose Girl, Hale stayed very close to the source material, where the protagonist could communicate with her horse and the wind elements. I was a little baffled by Hale's decision to allow the protagonist in her first completely original creation to also have mysterious communication via the elements, this time through linder rocks. Miri's ability to communicate with the people of Mount Eskel via linder is integral to the story, but I wish that it could have been something a little more distinguishable from Ani's abilities.

Nevertheless, there are many redeeming qualities that make Miri such wonderful, realistic protagonist and do separate her from her literary predecessor Ani. Miri's insecurities run so deep that she isolates herself from the other students and is incredibly slow to make friends. But once she does, Miri becomes a fierce defender of all the girls and their rights. At times Miri's sense of morality causes trouble and I was suprised to see how much of an instigator she has a tendency to become, but she never does sway from her strong moral compass. And while at the academy Miri does strive to do well, her successes come at the cost of lots of hard work. Miri is definitely easy to admire.

After feeling that the secondary characters were rather flat in The Goose Girl, I was happy to see many secondary characters did have more distinct personalities. I enjoyed witnessing Miri's relationship with many of the girls, most especially Britta. But the relationship that really stood out to me (as it should have) is Miri's relationship with her father. There's miscommunication to the point of Miri believing that her father doesn't love her. After all, he allows her older sister Marda to work at the quarry, but refuses point-blank whenever Miri asks. I loved how Miri gradually starts to understand her father better and his motivations behind his actions; it is very touching.

The worldbuilding is pretty well-done. As readers we're only exposed to Mount Eskel's community and the academy itself, but as Miri begins to learn and wonder about the world down away from the mountain, so do the readers.  I loved the little songs and chants that Hale included at the beginning of each chapter; they really helped broaden my understanding of the village and it's culture. I am most interested in learning about life in the lowlands in Princess Academy: Palace of Stone.

I will probably read the sequel, Princess Academy: Palace of Stone at some point, although I won't be in any rush to do so. Princess Academy reads like a standalone, and it took Hale seven years to publish its sequel. I was very satisfied with how Princess Academy ends, and if I'm satisfied with a story's ending, that makes it so much harder to move forward to a next book. I may also wait for the sequel to become a bit cheaper on Kindle. But I have three more of Hale's Books of Bayern and her Book of a Thousand Days on my Kindle, so I will be returning to Hale's stories at some point. They are lwell-written, feel-good stories with strong female protagonists who undergo realistic character development and emerge victorious from challenging circumstances. And sometimes exactly what I want in the books I read.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I listened to this as an audiobook and really loved it. It will full-cast. Really well-done. I think that helped me enjoy the book a little more.

    I haven't read The Goose Girl but I'm sure I will some day.

    1. Oh cool! I'm still not sure how to go about trying audiobooks again. I really need to connect with words and text visually. But maybe I just haven't found the right story/narrator/recording, etc. I'm glad you were able to enjoy the audiobook version of it!

      And I definitely recommend that you read The Goose Girl at some point! I liked it even better than this!


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