Book review: Hale's 'Princess Academy' shines

Published: Sunday, Aug. 28 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

PRINCESS ACADEMY, by Shannon Hale, Bloomsbury, 308 pages, $16.95.

As a talented author of children's books, Utah's own Shannon Hale continues to shine. Her two earlier books, "Goose Girl" and "Enna Burning," attracted a large reading audience and met critical approval, as well.

Her third book, "Princess Academy," a coming-of-age story, is now on the shelves, and it is just as good as her other books. Hale writes for ages 9 and up (or grades four and up), but she is such a wonderful storyteller that many adults enjoy reading her books as well.

The main character in "Princess Academy" is Miri, a mountain girl who lives with her family high on the slopes of Mount Eskel. Her name is taken from a tiny mountain flower. Because she is so tiny herself, her father gently rejects her desire, telling her in a mild, low voice, "You are never to set foot in the quarry, my flower."

Then, one day, there is an announcement from "the lowlands" from the king's priests that the prince will travel to Miri's mountain village to select his bride.

In preparation for his visit, all eligible girls are expected to attend an academy that will prepare them for understanding royalty and behaving in a royal manner. Miri is quickly tossed into heated competition with other would-be princesses. But when the academy is threatened by danger, Miri is the one who behaves in a heroic manner — even though her own dreams are at stake.

Hale is an extraordinary narrative writer who creates characters with whom the reader can relate. One thing Miri learns quickly is "Don't hesitate if you know it's right," so she tries to use that maxim in her schooling. She has trouble with the academy — the rules, the punishments, being away from her family and the mountain — and she isn't sure she really wants the prince to choose her anyway.

It is Peder, a mountain boy whose ambition is to be a wood carver, who appeals to her. When she uses the rules of conversation she learned at the academy on Peder, they become closer, both realizing their mutual attraction.

When the girls approach the end of the course, they are tested — on conversation and poise, pronunciation and clarity, toe-heeling across a room to curtsy before the prince — and they have to know in detail the history of the kingdom. Miri tries to help the other girls with their tests by communicating with them in "quarry speak."

She thinks that no matter which girl is chosen, they all should have the chance to attend the Ball. When Miri finally meets the prince, she is disappointed in how stiff and insincere he seems, and being outspoken with a bright personality, she confronts him. He is shocked, but he listens to her.

And so the story goes, but the ending must be left for the reader to discover.

Hale's career can only be enhanced by this book, and since she is as energetic as she is skillful, there are bound to be many more Shannon Hale books.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com

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