Book Review: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Princess Academy was likable enough, but I found it a bit disappointing for a Newbery Honor book and one which I’ve heard so many good things about. I simply wanted something a bit more from the story.
Miri lives on Mount Eskel, one of the outlying territories of Danland, where its residents make a living from trading the stone, linder, they mine in the quarry. Everyone else has worked in the quarry since they were children, but Miri has always been forbidden from doing so by her father. Her life changes when the lowlander King’s priests divine that the next princess will come from Mount Eskel, and all eligible girls from there are to attend an academy to prepare them as potential brides-to-be.
I enjoyed the fairy tale-like, light-hearted feel of the book, and I can see why it fits well with a primary school/middle-grade audience. The writing was simplistic and had a nice lyricism to it which helped with this as well. The premise was also intriguing enough (and the book doesn’t go down the unappealing route one might expect in a story of girls competing to be a princess), but many other aspects of the story felt underdeveloped.
Miri, the main character, has often felt lonely because her friends work in the quarry and she doesn’t; sees herself as having little self-worth; and becomes determined to prove herself when initially, many of the girls in the academy are against her. This is a good basis for a heroine, but I never really felt much of a connection to her. Often, she seemed to be doing what any girl would in her position (which made many of her friends seem all the more helpless and inactive). It was satisfying to see her relationships develop with the other girls and her best friend Peder, but there was nothing which explicitly interested me.
An interesting theme regarding knowledge and how it opens up the world was woven throughout the book. I liked seeing the way this affects Miri, and how she learns to help her people, and to imagine more than her mostly-mundane life before the academy through this. However, this also felt underdeveloped. Looking at the summary for the sequel, Palace of Stone, it seems that these ideas are addressed more explicitly there; but since everything else about Princess Academy pretty much stands alone, I would have expected a better resolution to this as well.
The magical element of this book, the power of quarry-speech the people of Mount Eskel possess, also felt underdeveloped. And the ending, whilst it wasn’t predictable and was effective in resolving most aspects of the story, felt anticlimactic in comparison to everything that had led up to it.
Overall, I thought Princess Academy was worth reading to satisfy my curiosity, for the light-hearted fairy tale feel, and for some of the interesting elements that were present. Unfortunately though, I failed to feel more invested in the book beyond that.