Princess Academy (Hale)

Book Reviews
Readers enchanted by Hale's Goose Girl are in for an experience that's a bit more earthbound in this latest fantasy-cum-tribute to girl-power. Cheerful and witty 14-year-old Miri loves her life on Mount Eskel, home to the quarries filled with the most precious linder stone in the land, though she longs to be big and strong enough to do quarry work like her sister and father. But Miri experiences big changes when the king announces that the prince will choose a potential wife from among the village's eligible girls-and that said girls must attend a new Princess Academy in preparation. Princess training is not all it's cracked up to be for spunky Miri in the isolated school overseen by cruel Tutor Olana. But through education—and the realization that she has the common mountain power to communicate wordlessly via magical "quarry-speech"—Miri and the girls eventually gain confidence and knowledge that helps transform their village. Unfortunately, Hale's lighthearted premise and underlying romantic plot bog down in overlong passages about commerce and class, a surprise hostage situation and the specifics of "quarry-speech." The prince's final princess selection hastily and patly wraps things up. Ages 9-up.
Publishers Weekly

Shannon Hale's career began with a fascinating retelling of The Goose Girl. One of the invented characters from that book became the heroine of Enna Burning. Now she writes a completely new tale and once again shows us that she knows the language, structure, and images of the world of fairy tales. The story begins in the mountainous region of Mount Eskel, a place where miners remove linder, a sought-after stone. Sometimes they do this without speech, for they have learned to communicate in a whole different way. All but Miri, a child who is not strong and who grieves this separation, as much as she grieves that her mother died at her birth. Everything changes when all the young women in the village must train in a hastily constructed Princess Academy so that one can be chosen to marry the prince. The governess Olana is a harsh task mistress, even cruel, as she crams her unschooled students full of information about poise, reading, and history. For once in her life, Miri is part of a community and she fights for fairness for her fellow students, even as she herself fights to learn. She also faces inner battles, trying to forget her growing love for her childhood friend, Peder, should she have to marry the prince. Coming of age in a princess academy, and understanding her past and her future path, are made stronger by the fairy tale voice Hale creates. This voice allows readers to lose themselves in her stories.
Susie Wilde - Children's Literature

Princess Academy is a delightful read with everything you need in a good fantasy book: action, adventure, romance-and a good kidnapping. Although many people who read this book will not have any connection to Miri's way of life (people usually don't tend goats high on a mountainside their whole lives), Hale's writing places you in the book, so you feel you can relate. The plot seems predictable, like any other book of its genre, but it has a twist that sets it apart and makes it all the more enjoyable. (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal.) —Rebecca Moreland (Teen Reviewer)

(Gr 5-9.) The thought of being a princess never occurred to the girls living on Mount Eskel. Most plan to work in the quarry like the generations before them. When it is announced that the prince will choose a bride from their village, 14-year-old Miri, who thinks she is being kept from working in the quarry because of her small stature, believes that this is her opportunity to prove her worth to her father. All eligible females are sent off to attend a special academy where they face many challenges and hardships as they are forced to adapt to the cultured life of a lowlander. First, strict Tutor Olana denies a visit home. Then, they are cut off from their village by heavy winter snowstorms. As their isolation increases, competition builds among them. The story is much like the mountains, with plenty of suspenseful moments that peak and fall, building into the next intense event. Miri discovers much about herself, including a special talent called quarry speak, a silent way to communicate. She uses this ability in many ways, most importantly to save herself and the other girls from harm. Each girl's story is brought to a satisfying conclusion, but this is not a fluffy, predictable fairy tale, even though it has wonderful moments of humor. Instead, Hale weaves an intricate, multilayered story about families, relationships, education, and the place we call home. — Linda L. Plevak, Saint Mary's Hall, San Antonio, TX
School Library Review

There are many pleasures to this satisfying tale: a precise lyricism to the language ("The world was as dark as eyes closed" or "Miri's laugh is a tune you love to whistle") and a rhythm to the story that takes its tropes from many places, but its heart from ours. Miri is very small; her father has never let her work in the linder stone quarries where her village makes its living and she fears that it's because she lacks something. However, she's rounded up, with the other handful of girls ages 12 to 17, to be taught and trained when it's foreseen that the prince's bride will come from their own Mount Eskel. Olana, their teacher, is pinched and cruel, but Miri and the others take to their studies, for it opens the world beyond the linder quarries to them. Miri seeks other learning as well, including the mindspeech that ties her to her people, and seems to work through the linder stone itself. There's a lot about girls in groups, both kind and cutting; a sweet boy; the warmth of friends, fathers and sisters; and the possibility of being chosen by a prince one barely knows. The climax involving evil brigands is a bit forced, but everything else is an unalloyed joy. (9-14).
Kirkus Reviews

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