The soundtrack to Les Misérables has been bouncing around in my head, and not just because the long-anticipated movie musical was released this past week (insert excited shriek here!). As I read Shannon Hale’s also long-anticipated sequel to her marvelous Newbery Honor-winning book, Princess Academy, I knew that the dream I dreamed finally came true and at the end of the day, Hale had written an incredibly satisfying sequel, that I know I am not on my own in adoring with a heart full of love. All right, I’ll stop with the Les Mis references and get to the point.
Princess Academy: Palace of Stone continues the story of Miri and her fellow princess academy graduates, as well as her sort of beau, Peder, as they join the future princess, Britta, in the capital as they prepare for Britta’s wedding to the crown prince. Miri is sent to the Queen’s Castle, the university where she is exposed to new ideas that test her allegiances and reveal the great divide between the noble class and the commoners. At the Queen’s Castle, she also meets a handsome scholar, Timon, who introduces her to a community of intellectuals who seek to disrupt the social order and spark a revolution against the royals, which happens to include Britta, as the backstabbing royal who stole the prince from the other princess academy undergraduates. The far-reaching consequences of the monarchy’s negligence and greed reach back home to the mountains, where Miri’s family has finally been able to eke out a living, only to become taxed beyond reason for the royal coffers. Political intrigue and romantic confusion blend together as Miri is torn between the Timon’s attractive attention and the Peder’s lackluster affection. But a “Bella” she is not; Miri takes action into her own hands and uses her intelligence to face both rabid revolutionaries and unreasonable royals.
Hale has tackled the complicated issues of privilege, revolution, and loyalty with keen understanding about human nature. No one is truly good or bad in this world, but have motivations that cloud their judgment to see beyond their own needs. She masterfully allows ambiguity to shape Miri’s story, rather than providing easy answers and a clear path. Like the linder that Miri’s people mine in the mountains, the narrative is shaped by many layers that come together to show that war is not always the way to a new order. There may not be a triumphant finale that is written in blood and loss, but in this new world, instead of empty chairs at empty tables, the people will be able to sing and live in peace longer than one day more.
Extra Feature: School Library Journal hosted a live broadcast from Brooklyn Friends School in New York City to celebrate Princess Academy: Palace of Stone with Shannon Hale. She is hilarious and self-deprecating and just wonderful, especially about her writing process. She feeds off of the energy of the actual children in the audience, which makes this webcast unique as a true experience of her interactions with her readers. Just watch it and you'll love Shannon Hale even more.
An archive of this event is available here.
You can also check out:
Shannon's Website for Palace of Stone
Princess Academy Pinterest
Princess Academy Discussion Guide