High on Mount Eskel, a territory of the kingdom of Danland, fourteen-year-old Miri dreams of being special. She knows she was special to her mother, who clutched Miri tight in her arms as a newborn babe before she died when Miri was only a week old. But her father absolutely forbids Miri to work in the quarry, the main trade for their village on Mount Eskel. Almost everyone Miri knew worked in the quarry, including her older sister Marda. Miri feels her father thinks her useless because of her tiny size and strives so hard to show him how useful she is. When the king declares that his prophets have discovered his son’s bride is to be found on Mount Eskel and that there will be a Princess Academy for all eligible girls, Miri is stunned to find herself sent away from her family with the other village girls to learn how to be a princess from a harsh tutor. When Miri questions the severity of their treatment, like the beatings and the hours locked in a damp closet with rats and no visiting days to return home, she makes enemies of the other girls but finds she really truly loves to learn. Will Miri be good enough to be a princess even if she wasn’t good enough to work in the quarry?
Princess Academy shows us a confused girl who just wants to belong somewhere, to be valued for her own usefulness. Though she is vulnerable, she is also tough and resourceful, surprising the reader by her strong leadership qualities and desire to do her best and be as honest as possible. This book is one of the best for preteen readers and for transitioning them into reading more YA books. There is a sequel, reviewed next.
The sequel to the Newberry Honor book Princess Academy, Palace of Stone finds Miri and a few others from the Princess Academy attending the wedding of their friend Britta to Prince Steffan. Britta has given Miri a special chance to be a student at the Queen’s College, where all the scholars of Asland go to learn. Dissention and unrest are stirring in Asland and the girls from Mount Eskel see it firsthand when the provinces’ tributes to the king are worthless, all except theirs. Katar asks Miri to find out if she can get in with the rebellion against the king, and Miri, trying to do right by her friends and herself, lands in a sinkhole of trouble. Is this the end of Asland’s monarchy and Britta and Steffan’s happiness? Could part of it be Miri’s own fault and can she stop the rebellion before someone is hurt, or worse, killed?
Palace of Stone brings us back to a Miri who loves her home but still cannot reconcile who she is and what she will become. As her own confusion grows with the validity of the rebellion and the truth of the king’s harsh treatment of the people, Miri is swept along by her ideals into a war between friends, a war that can get very bloody quickly. She also is having problems with her romantic situation and feels she has no one to be her true friend and give her the advice she needs. Miri is truly on her own to figure out what part she wants to play and where her allegiance really lies…and her choices could have dire consequences. Any reader who loved Miri in Princess Academy will want to follow her as she heads into more trouble than she can cope with. Perhaps Miri’s tough choices will give readers the encouragement to face their own troubles and learn from them.
I love almost anything by Shannon Hale, so these are definite buys for my shelf!