Sally’s Rating: 3.5/5
Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy is about a fourteen-year-old girl who attends the princess academy and by the end of her lessons will have the chance of the lifetime to be picked by the prince to be his bride.
This book very much reads like a fairy tale. Miri lives up in the mountain lands of Eskel, where working in a quarry is the main way of life. When a soothsayer predicts that the next queen will come from her village, all the town’s teen girls are rounded up and sent to the academy to learn the manners, etiquette, and skills that a future princess will need to know. The sharp contrast between her former easy-going life and the strictness of the new academy brings out her boldness and desire to learn all she can. Miri’s a fun heroine to follow as she is a natural-born leader, and her relationships with her crush Peder and best friend Britta are fun to watch develop.
I was pleasantly surprised that this book didn’t focus much on the competition between the girls to win the title of Academy Princess; instead, it focuses on their growing friendships with each other. The girls’ education is a major focus of the novel, and it provides a viewpoint in how knowledge and learning are perceived by different social classes. While the girls begin the book uneducated, they are able to bring knowledge of economics and reading back to their hometown to help build a better community.
Princess Academy was not particularly memorable. The main portion of the book – where the girls attend the academy – is a bit slow going, and it felt like scene after scene featured their strict headmistress, Olanna, yelling at them and making them feel inferior. I found the quarry singing to be an interesting concept and wish it had been featured a bit more prominently as Miri slowly figures out the mystery of this magical communication system. The magic aspect is very low key throughout the novel and hardly feels present at all.
Overall, this was a middle-of-the-road fantasy novel that features some courageous female characters and some “boarding school” plot material. If you want magical kingdoms and princesses, you’d be better off reading any series by Gail Carson Levine, Tamora Pierce, or Patricia C. Wrede – all of whom feature more colorful “princess” characters and more intriguing world building. Despite this, the book was a satisfying read; don’t be put off by the title alone.