Thursday, May 1, 2014

REVIEW: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Princess Academy (Princess Academy, #1)Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2005
Genre(s): Middle Grade Fantasy
Series: Princess Academy 1
Format: Audio
Narrated By: Multiple - Full Cast Audio

After reading Shannon Hale’s re-telling of The Goose Girl fairytale, I immediately became a fan. I read an interview with her where she said she loved the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tales except was bothered by how helpless and complacent the female characters were. That seemed to be her focus in The Goose Girl, to flesh out a one-dimensional character and to give her some “character”. While I believe Princess Academy is an original fable-like story, Hale brings the same sensibility to crafting the heroine of Princess Academy.

Miri lives in the small isolated mountain town of Mount Eskel where community and family are paramount and quarry mining is the major industry. She feels out of place in the town and in her family because her father won’t let her help in the quarry even though most of the other 14 year olds in the village do. Despite this, she greets the news brought by a royal representative that the Prince must pick his bride from among Mount Eskel’s girls with dismay. Regardless, she and all the other girls between the ages of 13 and 18 are forced to move away from their home to attend a school intended to make them princess material. At the end of their months long studies the Prince will host a ball at the academy in order to pick his princess.

If that description conjures images of Prince Charming and fated love and ugly ducklings transforming into swans, squash that right away. Despite the title and premise this is a much folksier tale and is really about a smart girl who learns recognize and love her place in the world. Along the way she learns how to talk with others from her village silently using the quarry rocks as a conduit and uses this skill to vanquish murderous bandits.  The culture Hale has created reminded me of perhaps a small village in Appalachia - a hard life that creates a bond amongst those who share it and which breeds contempt from those who don’t. It was definitely an interesting setting.

This read a bit younger to me then The Goose Girl (probably because it had a younger protagonist) but it still felt decently complex in exploring growing up and evolving relationships. It felt a little choppy to me at times and I didn’t love it as much as The Goose Girl but Shannon Hale has definitely established herself in my mind as an author to keep exploring especially when I’m in the mood for a well told fairy or fable-like tale.

The audio was again of the Full-cast variety (like The Goose Girl) so many people voicing the dialogue. I really don’t think I love this type of recording as I think it might have contributed to me feeling like things were choppy. I’ve listened to books with a couple different perspectives and each perspective voice is different and that I’m okay with. But I’m not sure I love a full cast voicing just the dialogue. This may just be my quirk.

Final Verdict: A fable like story with a strong female protagonist which bucks the normal fairy-tale conventions. What’s not to like?

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