Read June 5, 2010 – June 8, 2010
Hardcover edition, 314 pages
Published by Bloomsbury, 2005
Miri is a young mountain girl, sweetly named after the persistent flower that grows up between the linder stones on Mount Eskel. Miri loves the mountain, her village, and her people. As she watches over her family’s goats, she can hear the miners in the quarry singing their work songs, and admires the hard work of her people. She longs to join the rest of the village in the linder quarry, but for reasons unknown her father forbids her from stepping foot in the mine. Because of Miri’s exclusion from the mine, she thinks she is a burden on her village and longs to give back to the community she loves. When the kingdom’s priests identify Mt Eskel as the territory from which the prince must choose his bride, an envoy is dispatched to the village to educate the young girls and groom them for life as a princess. Miri strives to become the ‘Academy Princess’, hoping life as a princess will allow her to finally give back to her village.
As usual, I thoroughy enjoyed this clever novel from Shannon Hale, but I must first explain that the title is misleading. The word “princess” brings to mind images of pink dresses with puff sleeves, tiaras, star wands, and helpless maidens in distress. Enthralling to the average 6 year old girl, but off-putting to much of the rest of us. However, Princess Academy is not your typical fantasy. Here Hale has written a beautiful story with enchanting characters, not the least of whom is Mt Eskel and the linder itself. The novel touches on the themes of community, friendship, growing up, and, surprisingly, provided some intersting commentary on classism. I would compare Hale to a Pixar film–her stories appeal to young audiences, but have enough depth of character, complexity of plot, and integrity of prose to captivate any adult.
Like many of her other novels, I absolute love how Hale creates a unique elemental language. Because of the village’s eons-long reliance on Mt Eskel’s linder, they become adept at using the rhythm of the linder to pass messages between each other, or “quarry-speak”. Although Miri initially is unable to recognize or communicate in “quarry-speak” due to her absence from quarry work, once in the academy not only does Miri master “quarry-speak”, but she learns also its secrets and teaches the other girls how to communicate messages beyond the usual quarry warnings (“Strike Softer”, “Look out”). The mountain itself is whimsical, lending a whole and earthy, small-town feel to the novel.
Overall, I would place The Princess Academy as a tied-for-second favorite amongst the Shannon Hale novels I have read. I loved its homey feel, and quite frankly, I loved the linder almost as much as the villagers did.
Rhapsody in Books has also written a lovely review of The Princess Academy.