Bibliophile reviews Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Year published: 2005
Genre: Fantasy for older children/younger teens (especially girls), coming of age story

The Story: In a medieval type fantasy country, Miri, a young girl, is coming of age among the quarry workers of the mountains. They quarry linder, a valuable kind of rock that is in demand as building material for palaces and fine houses in the lowlands. Traders come to the village once a year to trade food and other necessities for linder, but in Miri's 14th year a messenger comes from the king, proclaiming that a prophesy has foretold that the bride of the crown prince will come from the mountains. Therefore, all the mountain girls aged 12 to 17 must attend a princess academy to prepare them for meeting the prince, who will choose one of them as his bride once they are ready.
Miri's father has never allowed her to work in the quarry for reasons she doesn’t understand, making her feel like an outsider, so in a way she welcomes the chance to experience something different. She is still ambivalent as to whether it is because she wants to marry the prince (not out of any desire for power, but a simple desire to make her family comfortable), or if it’s because she wants a chance to see the world outside the mountains.
Education brings unexpected benefits to the girls and their families, but it also brings out the competitive streak in the girls. But things don’t always go as planned...

Review: Shannon Hale is perhaps best known for her spin on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale of The Goose Girl, but here she has created a totally new world and characters. The book won a Newberry honour in 2006, which can only mean that the winner must have been very, very good.

The world Miri lives in is not the kind of fantasy world that is full of big magic and monsters – as a matter of fact, it resembles a medieval version of our own world – but Hale manages to make it real, and it does have some magical qualities that I will not mention because I would like other readers to discover them for themselves.

Hale’s characterisations are realistic and lively and while some of the girls are ‘types’, they do change and grow and the reasons for their behaviour, be it meanness, bossiness, xenophobia, shyness, etc. are explained, so they can’t really be called stereotypes. Miri is the focus of the story, i.e. the partially omniscient narrator tells the tale exclusively from her point of view, so the reader gets to sit inside her head and see the world through her eyes.

The writing is excellent and the plotting is good, and while I did see the big twist coming, it may still come as a pleasant surprise to a younger reader.

This is the sort of book that is liable to become a perennial read for girls, much like The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables. It is no coincidence that I mention these two books, because like them, Princess Academy is a gripping coming of age story about a girl who feels like she is an outsider, but who discovers unknown strengths and talents in herself and finds acceptance and friendship.

Rating: An excellent coming of age story for girls of all ages. 4+ stars.


Maw Books said…
Every review I've read, including yours, say that this book is awesome! I have it on hold at the library right now but there is quite the wait for it. I am looking forward to reading it!
Bibliophile said…
I'm sure you will love it.
Stephanie said…
I just read Hale's 'Book of a Thousand Days' and loved the lyrical nature of her writing. I will definitely have to check out this fantasy book, as I'm sure it will be another hit.

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