Author: Shannon Hale
You’d think a book called “Princess Academy” would be a book chiefly about… well, a Princess Academy. It’s certainly what I was expecting anyway, lot’s of school time tales with the added twist of becoming a princess, with some girl power stories and maybe some fun hijinks.
But this very much wasn’t the case. Of course, there is a Princess Academy that the characters all attend, but this book wasn’t really about the Academy, more about the socio-economics of the region surrounding it, and the cultural and commercial impact of education in rural areas. I’m not going to be petty and tear the book to shreds for not being what I expected it to be, but anyone looking to buy this book should probably be aware of what it’s about so, unlike me, they’re not completely rearranging their expectations mid-read, having chosen completely the wrong book for the mood they’re in.
Besides, I can’t completely tear the book to shreds because there were some parts I did quite like. Outside the Princess Academy the girls live in a mountainous and beautiful area with an interesting internal culture, and it was nice to see the village evolving and becoming a better place to live as the young girls learnt to read and opened up new opportunities.
Most of the characters were well balanced, bar Miri, the protagonist, whose biggest flaw seems to be ‘she gets in trouble because she won’t let injustices slide!’ and also she has an (as in one and only one) insecurity, so yes, she’s about as balanced as the force at the end of the Star Wars prequels. That said I really must stress how much Hale seemed to try and round out the other characters, giving the ‘mean’ girls their soft moments and the ‘nice’ girls their harder moments, so it was hard to dislike the rest of the cast.
The writing itself is… unusual, I didn’t like it at first, it’s the kind of writing that’s vaguely old-timey, but there are some modern turn of phrases in there that didn’t really belong. If nothing else I got into the swing of it in the very least and it gave the book a unique voice which is something I appreciate.
So yes, some bits were enjoyable, but other bits really fell by the way side. Funnily enough the Princess Academy was probably one of the least enjoyable things to read about, they learned to read at first, which made sense, but they seemed to clean a lot and it took a long time for anything else to happen, then even when it did I wouldn’t really call the ‘Poise’ classes “fun”, they just kind of took up space on the page.
One thing I could have really done without was the time spent discovering and learning something the book called ‘quarry speech’, in other words, the ability of the mountain people to put their hands on rocks and telepathically send messages. There was a lot of time spent on this, and while it’s a nice little quirk and was certainly essential to the story I don’t see why the process of learning it had to be so boring.
I don’t know, on the one hand, I think I’ve gone back on what I said at the beginning of this review about judging Princess Academy harshly because it’s not what I thought it was going to be. But on the other hand, I just didn’t have much fun reading this book. I didn’t care for the main character, there were no fun episodes within the story that I can point to and say ‘that was a laugh’, nor was I particularly excited by any of it, even when bandits showed up I was thinking ‘Ah…If only I cared about anyone they’ve taken hostage’. So I’m going to finish my review on one of the biggest cop-out phrases I know.
I guess it was fine.