The Princess Academy

A couple of weeks ago, I had just finished posting my recap of the Filipino Book Bloggers’ Meetup and it was well past midnight when I reached for the book I’d started that morning: my signed copy of The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.

I had started to read the first chapter, but it was a busy day so it got stashed in my bag until I got home. I meant to read just a few chapters before going to bed, but before I knew it, it was 4 in the morning and I’d finished the book!

Don’t let the title mislead you –it’s not the pink and frilly princess tale you’re probably expecting.

The Princess Academy, a 2006 Newbery Honor book, is about Miri, a fourteen year old girl from a village in Mount Eskel, a quarrying community that earns its living by mining linder, a brilliant white stone marbled with pale veins of pink, blue, green, and silver.

When the village gets a message from the lowlands that the priests of the kingdom have divined that the next princess will be a girl from the mountains, Miri finds herself (with the rest of the village girls between the ages of 12 and 17) packed off to Princess Academy, where they must learn what it takes to become royalty.

Miri, who often feels like an outsider within the village because of her father’s overprotectiveness, struggles with the academy’s rigid system, fierce competition with the girls she considers her friends, and her own desire to prove her worth.

I’ve had a paperback copy of this book for over a year, but it wasn’t until I “did a Blooey” (what my book club friends call “upgrading” a book into a better copy) and got a hardcover signed copy that I found myself wanting to read it.

Given my low tolerance for fantasy, I had no trouble reading this book. It leans more towards the low medieval fantasy side, although at the heart of it, it’s really a coming of age tale. I really liked the story for its charming simplicity — not much flash and bang, just some very charming characters moving on a straightforward storyline; lighthearted, but definitely not lightweight.

At first, it reminded me of Hunger Games… well, minus the gory bits, of course.

Miri, like Katniss, is named after a flower, the tiny miri flower that grew on the mountainside. They’re both plucky and courageous (both with a rebellious streak, too). Both have a talent for singing, and both come from a quarrying community, although Mount Eskel is a much prettier version of District 12.

Miri’s best friend, Peder, is a cross between Gale and Peeta — familiar and outdoorsy like Gale, with Peeta’s classic good looks and artistic talent. And of course, there’s the underlying current of romance between Miri and Peder.

The academy also reminded me of the finishing school Ella and her stepsisters briefly attended in Ella Enchanted.

But then, I also haven’t read anything quite like The Princess Academy. It has a unique flavor to it, a blend of an unlikely heroine and her journey towards self-discovery; the transformative power of reading and knowledge; friendship and the strength in unity; and a positive message of feminism, empowerment and self-esteem for young readers. It’s definitely a far cry from all these newfangled edgy novels, but it’s a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated market. Sometimes, a well-written story is really all you need.

It’s the first Shannon Hale novel I’ve ever read, but I count The Princess Academy as one of the best books I’ve read all year. I can’t wait to read more of Shannon Hale’s novels!


The Princess Academy, signed hardcover with dustjacket, 5/5 stars

Book #167 of 2010


7 thoughts on “The Princess Academy”

  1. Oooh wow, a signed copy. Where’d you get it? I love Shannon Hale. She introduced me to so many other favorite authors because of the interviews that she posted on her blog. My favorite of hers is The Goose Girl. :)

  2. I loved Princess Academy and like you it is the first book of hers I read :) haha I want hardbound of that one too. At the moment I’m currently hunting for goose girl :)

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