Genre: Children's fantasy
Date Published: January 1st, 2005
Length: 250 pages, or 7 hours and 24 minutes on audiobook
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Synopsis: 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.
....for being creative and interesting, but not as amazing as The Goose Girl.
I debated about whether or not to put an additional 1/2 star to my rating of this book, but I eventually decided against it. In my opinion, this story was okay, but it wasn't one of Shannon Hale's best work. Personally, I liked The Goose Girl better.
As always, Shannon Hale shows a talent for world-building. When it comes to creating a new magical place, it's all in the details. And Hale did very well with the details.
The characters are likeable enough as well. I liked Miri, and I can forgive her for the mistakes she makes (she's only 14 after all). Olana is a sufficiently mean teacher to carry the story along and Peder is a sweet boy. The pace of the plot also worked really well, as I managed to finish this book within a few days, despite my heavy schedule.
I had an issue with this story however. I am fully aware that this is a children's book, and it's meant for little girls, not fully grown women, but, to me, the conflict seemed rather shallow. It had the potential for more thought-provoking depth, but the author didn't take that route.
To me, I felt that the driving point of the story should have been the fact that the girls are essentially being groomed and prepped for a situation where the prince is going to select one of them to marry, like as though they're prize horses that needed to be broken in a little before being selected. This concept rankled me a lot, and I thought it would be a little more prominent in the plot, something for the girls to be afraid of.
That part took a bit of a backseat, however, with the actual driving point of the story being a contest among the girls for becoming "the academy princess", with a mean, unfair teacher making that contest difficult. I know that these are a bunch of girls with different priorities, and that they took advantage of the things they learned and helped improve the lives of the people in their village, but I felt the academy contest to be unnecessary and shallow, making a serious situation too lighthearted for my taste.
Because I disagreed with the main conflict of the story, I couldn't enjoy the book as much as I would have liked, and it made the ending feel too neat and convenient. So overall, I wasn't completely satisfied with this novel, but it was just enjoyable enough for me to be curious to see where Shannon Hale takes it next.
In the end, this is a book meant for young girls, so I would recommend it for that age group. Otherwise, if you're looking for a good Shannon Hale novel, I would instead steer you over to The Books Of Bayern series, which includes The Goose Girl. Like I said before, that series is clearly better.