“Princess Academy (Princess Academy #1)” by Shannon Hale
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade Fiction, Fantasy
Summary from Goodreads:
Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king’s priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year’s time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king’s ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess. Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.
Hale does a wonderful job of creating a fantasy book that has a pretty firm standing here in the real world. I love that his book felt more like historical fiction rather than fantasy. Mount Eskel felt pretty complete. The book wasn’t terribly long but I felt I had a good grasp on what the place was like. We got little hints of the politics of the area as well as a good sprinkling of the culture. We learned a bit about their traditions and their songs. Maybe not as much as I wanted but then again I am a huge fan of learning about fictional places.The fantastical element (quarry speaking) was so minor you might just mistake it for a real thing. Being able to convey messages through memories would be pretty awesome to do though.
I’ll admit the actual story does seem a bit odd. The idea of finishing schools is always odd one for me. I don’t know why. It’s just a weird idea to go to school for that. The idea of a finishing school for mountain girls with no education was pretty interesting. Mix that with the fact that the prince will choose one of the graduates to be his wife? That’s a big rags-to-riches story. Then when you throw in the fact that it’s almost a boarding school school as well? I was hooked.
Miri was an awesome heroine. She is a smart one. I loved that she loved learning. I loved that she wasn’t interested in the education in order to get the prince. She was doing it for her. She wanted to learn and she wanted to pass on the knowledge to her people so they could better themselves. If the prince just happened to choose her? It would just be icing on the cake. She was selfless but realistically selfless. She stood up to the teacher, she was willing to take the fall to save her classmates, and truly wanted what was best for everyone. All of that was pretty believable.
The bottom line? Enjoyable!