Saturday, December 8, 2012

Review: Princess Academy

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Series: Princess Academy #1
Genre: YA, adventure
Published on July 6, 2005
Published by Bloomsbury
Pages: 314
Read From: 11.25.12 - 11.29.12

High on the slopes of Mount Eskel, Miri's family has loved forever, pounding a meager living from the stone of the mountain itself. Miri dreams of working alongside the others in the quarry, but she has never been allowed to work there - perhaps, she thinks, because she is so small. 
Then word comes from the lowlands: the king's priests have divined that the prince's bride-to-be - the next princess - will come from Mount Eskel. The prince himself will travel to the village to choose his bride, but first all eligible girls must attend a makeshift academy to prepare for royal lowlander life. 
At the school, Miri finds herself confronting both bitter competition among the girls and her own conflicted desires to be chosen. Yet when danger comes to the academy, it is Miri, named for a tiny mountain flower, who must find a way to save her classmates - and the chance for the future that each of them is eager to secure as her own.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yes. There’s something about the simple charm, the way it kind of looks like a wood carving, that really appeals to me.

Characters: Miri starts out as a pretty quiet character - she almost doesn’t feel like protagonist material, but more like she should be a secondary character. The protagonist’s faithful companion, perhaps, or younger sister who is fated to die in the end. But her personality shines out soon after the girls arrive at the academy, and it becomes very evident that she’s funny, brave, clever, and kind. My initial opinion of her did an entire 180, and I’m happy to say that she makes a great protagonist. The other academy girls kind of blend into one, but the few that stand out make up for it. Katar is a great rival for Miri for the title of academy princess, and I actually didn’t mind when she and Katar make up, because I understood Katar’s motivation and I felt sorry for her. She didn’t seem like a natural jerk, but someone stick in desperate circumstances.

The Romance: Peder, Miri’s love interest, wasn’t in the story a whole lot, which I found disappointing, because I really like him. He seemed sweet and thoughtful. I didn’t mind the romance at all because Miri and Peder’s relationship felt exactly as it should: a young crush that would eventually bloom into something far deeper. I also appreciated that all of the girls, not just Miri, considered whether or not they really wanted to marry a prince that they didn’t know. In stories like these, the girls are always just starry-eyed over the idea, and don’t at all consider the fact that they’ll be marrying a complete stranger.

Plot: It is a bit akin to Cinderella and The Princess and the Pea: there’s a ball, a special dress the academy princess gets to wear, the girl the prince ends up marrying is in actuality a nobleman’s daughter in disguise, and the girls are put through a series of tests (academic ones, in this case) to see who is most fit to be a princess. So it many ways, it feels like a fairytale retelling, but the story has its own originality. What at first seems like another princess story turns into a rather exciting adventure, when the girls run away, Miri encourages her village to defy the cheating traders, and then bandits show up. It’s got a lot more action than one would expect, and never once does the story lag.

Believability: Miri’s world felt very real and very plausible, minus the quarry-speech, which comes close to telepathy. The mountain people, being a remote region and thus having no access to education, are properly ignorant, and their livelihood is difficult.

Writing Style: It’s simplistic, but beautiful. The Author’s descriptions of Mount Eskel quite transported me. I could feel the high altitude, the biting cold, the purity of the snow and water, and the magical, bright spring that you can only get high up in the mountains. It made me want to be back up in the mountains myself, in the snow, looking down into the valleys and neighboring peaks. It’s not many Authors who can describe the mountains so well.

Content: None.

Conclusion: With a story like this, you expect an ending where the protagonist meets the prince, they grow to like each other, and they get married. You don’t expect bandits, a desperate escape, skirmishes, and even death. All which happens without the prince coming in to save the day. The Author’s deviation from the norm for princess stories is one of the things which makes this book so good. I remember loving this book when I first read it, and my opinion has not changed. I still love it, and I always will.

Recommended Audience: Even though this is not a fairytale retelling, fans of that genre will enjoy this story, as well as Readers who like genuinely strong female protagonists without Attitudes. Girl-read, any age.

Others in This Series:
1)Princess Academy
2)Palace of Stone

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