Miri woke to the sleepy bleating of a goat. The world was as dark as eyes closed, but perhaps the goats could smell dawn seeping through the cracks in the house's stone walls.
"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."
Princess Academy is one of those really easy middle grade books that I still enjoy, time after time. Despite its simplicity, it's a beautiful story well-told. The world it's set in is entertaining to read about, the story is interesting, and I loved reading again about how Miri changes and grows throughout the story.
The premise is perhaps a typical one; girls competing to marry the prince. It's echoed in The Selection, albeit in a more annoyingly YA and science fiction world. Really, there's no comparing the two books. They're so different. Anyway, Miri and the other girls from the mountain journey to the academy, where things are not very enjoyable. Eventually, Miri makes peace with most of the girls, but there are still more challenges to be faced.
Interestingly enough, I remembered a lot about the beginning of Princess Academy, but not much about the ending besides who eventually becomes the princess and the plot twist. I read the sequel recently, and was able to enjoy despite not remembering specific events. So I was certainly glad to reread Princess Academy, and revisit all of the characters.
There is perhaps a lack of description in Princess Academy, but the reader is still immersed in the compelling world. The quarry-speech that the mountain dwellers share is so unique and imaginative. And it is Miri who figures out many of the secrets of it; before it was used only to communicate in the quarry, but she realizes that there's more to it than that.
I absolutely love almost everything about Princess Academy; I love all of the characters, good and bad, and I love the way that Miri deals with her problems. She has so many insecurities because she's small and scrawny, but she's also highly intelligent, even before she goes to the academy and learns a lot of new things. Miri is a compelling heroine.
Princess Academy is, for the most part, an entertainment, but although it's not exactly literary, Shannon Hale does at least attempt to provide some "lessons" or "morals". Miri gradually gains confidence in her own abilities throughout the novel, and she learns a lot, as do the intended middle grade readers.
I love how the characters all have good and bad sides. There are very few truly evil characters in Princess Academy; even snobbish Katar, who we've come to dislike intensely throughout the book, has a good side. She's just lonely and she hates the mountain. She realizes that becoming the princess may be one of the only ways to get out of there, and she needs that.
Princess Academy is compelling, absorbing, entertaining, and fairly suspenseful. There are several twists, and it's definitely a very enjoyable read which I would highly recommend. It's not the most thought-provoking of reads, perhaps, but it's not necessarily mindless entertainment either.