What a lovely set of books for girls. I first read Princess Academy back in oh… maybe 2008 or 2009. Loved it! It’s super girly and what I enjoyed most about the story is that it’s about a girl named Miri who comes into her own with out the use of violence. It’s about Miri becoming strong by playing to her strengths and relying on her own innate abilities and self confidence. A sweet story that I think all young girls should read. This is one of my favorite children’s reads, up there with Ella Enchanted and Harry Potter.
Having said that, I enjoyed Palace of Stone and The Forgotten Sisters, but didn’t connect to the stories as deeply as the original Princess Academy. I believe there was a natural progression to the sequels, but somehow the sequels didn’t touch me as profoundly as the first.
The world that Hale creates in Princess Academy is a fictional kingdom filled with fleshed out characters and a way of life that is unique to Miri and her village on Mt Eskel. The world building felt real and you didn’t have to be given page upon page of description to understand it. The culture of the kingdom, in general, is pretty basic and unoriginal, but the culture of Mt Eskel contains a different twist on the lives of peasants and quarry workers. Of course they have their own festivals and the meaning of trading days is typical, but the people of Mt Eskel have something that no other culture has and that is something called “quarry speech.” This is something that all Eskelites can do and it’s something unique to them. The nice thing about this is that quarry speech is something that is consistent and further developed through out the Princess Academy trilogy. The fact that the villagers have this ability is a key factor in all three books.
The best part of the Princess Academy books is the main character Miri, the youngest daughter of a strong Eskelite quarry worker, who’s mother died only days after her birth. Miri is funny, smart, kind, and determined. Though Miri is comfortable in her own skin, she sometimes lacks a little self confidence and wonders what her place in the world should be. What gets Miri through her trials and tribulations is her positive attitude, ingenuity, flexibility, and her unique ability to quarry speak. To me Miri felt like a natural girl who is just trying to find her place in the world and as she gets older is put into greater and greater roles of responsibility (imposed both by herself and those around her).
In Princess Academy, the priests divine that Mt Eskel is where the Prince is destined to find his new bride, and declare that a princess academy be set up to teach the eligible girls how to be a princess. At the new academy not only is Miri given the chance to expand her horizons but she is forcefully shown how backward and utterly common she and the people of her village are. She struggles with her feelings about her best childhood friend Pater and her desire to become “the” princess. She is also overwhelmed by how much she doesn’t know about the world, but her innate curiosity motivates her to learn as much as possible.
Even though Miri’s story is told in third person, the reader becomes close to her through knowing her thoughts and relating to her struggles as she tries to be the best that she can be. The story sometimes turns in predictable places because what group of girls doesn’t become a little catty when competing for a royal prize, but it’s Miri’s reactions to these situations that make the story unique and encouraging. I liked that this story didn’t run in predictable places where it mattered. Sometimes you think, “oh this is going to happen to Miri,” but then there is a twist that makes something even grander happen. This story is about understanding people, making friends, and utilizing your knowledge for the benefit of everyone and not just yourself. All themes that are nice to have as a preteen girl.
Palace of Stone
In Palace of Stone Miri and some of the other Mt Eskel girls go to the capital city for the first time and deal with the culture shock of being the country bumpkin experiencing the crowds, noise, and poverty of the big city for the first time. Miri continues her education in the capital and realizes that there’s even more information that she doesn’t know, more that she needs to learn about the world like Ethics and Politics. Though she still struggles with her feelings about a certain boy in her life, the primary focus of Miri’s adventure revolves around the political unrest that is ready to boil over in the capital. People are not happy with the way that the country is being run and Miri feels conflicted because she agrees with much of what should change, but fears retribution against her Mt Eskel home.
In this story Miri finds her place in the wider world utilizing the very same abilities he had in the previous book, but using her greater knowledge from her new experiences to help her.
The struggles that Miri experiences in Palace of Stone are similar but one step above the challenges of the previous book. It’s a natural progression of a coming of age story. I enjoyed this book and though it totally worth the read because this is a natural next step for a girl who is trying to make her way in a larger world.
The Forgotten Sisters
In The Forgotten Sisters the king challenges Miri by making her a tutor of her own three person princess academy in the middle of a swamp. Alone, feeling under qualified, and sent to a completely foreign landscape, Miri is challenged to do her duty and coach one of three forgotten sisters, the king’s cousins, on how to be princesses so they can be groomed to form a political alliance and stop the neighboring kingdom from invading their land.
For some reason this book felt a little forced to me. It was still nice and I enjoyed being with Miri again with a little more experience under her belt, but there was something off that I can’t exactly explain. I never really saw Miri as being a prissy kind of a girl, not even after living in the capital for a year. I mean she’s used to living with goats, which I admit isn’t the same thing as living with frogs and alligators but she’s not a stranger to dirt and grime, but prissy is how she came off in the beginning of the story. And that disappointed me. I understand the trials of feeling too small to fill important shoes, so that aspect of the beginning was relatable. But even though the story was supposed to be about Miri and how she helps to save the kingdom, I think in the end the story was really about the 3 forgotten sisters that she helps. Even though Miri grows a little bit more as a person though the course of the story it’s the sisters that endure the biggest character shifting moments and biggest emotional upheaval. It was more like Miri was the vehicle in which to tell the stories of the other girls. Which is all right, but at the same time I felt a little cheated on Miri’s behalf.
Overall I highly recommend Princess Academy and Stone Palace is a great follow up if you are so inclined. If you feel that you haven’t gotten enough of Miri’s world I would suggest reading though The Forgotten Princesses, but you’re not missing much if you decide to forgo the experience for another book.
If you enjoy coming of age and princess stories that have a more substance and can apply to every girl whether you become the princess or not, you should enjoy the Princess Academy series.