August 21, 2012

Review: Princess Adademy: Palace of Stone

Palace of StoneBook Two in the Princess Academy series
By Shannon Hale
Available now from Bloomsbury
Review copy courtesy of Nicole of Paperback Princess

Fans of young adult literature are often called upon to defend it, to explain that YA books are not dumbed down or simplified.   Rarely do you hear the same protests from middle grade fans.  But the best middle grade books - THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, A WRINKLE IN TIME, MATILDA - can be read and loved by adults as well as children.  Good middle grade fiction doesn't condescend to the reader any more than YA does.  And no one could accuse Shannon Hale of condescension in PALACE OF STONE, the second Princess Academy book.

(Be warned: this review spoils PRINCESS ACADEMY.)

Revolution.  Miri brought change to Mount Eskel, empowering the poor people of the mountain to ask for a fair price for their labor.  The lowlanders noticed, and discontent with the nobility is spreading.  And Miri's best friend Britta is about to marry the prince, making her a target for the revolutionaries' rage.

It's been ages since I read PRINCESS ACADEMY.  But Hale brought me right back into the world of Danland, and soon I remembered clever, radical Miri and loyal, hardworking Peder and all the rest.  Now a lady of the princess, Miri has traveled to capital city Asland to support Britta and study at Queen's College.  There she meets Timon, a young boy who introduces her to a group of radicals.  She sympathizes with their ideals - until it becomes clear getting rid of nobles means death to nobles.

Much of PALACE OF STONE getting to know and like the members of the Salon, but on the other side, Britta is known and liked.  There is no clear cut solution to save the country.  There is no dragon to be slayed.  And the characters are in mortal danger.  Miri could be beheaded for treason.  Britta could be beheaded for being the princess-to-be.

I also liked how much of PALACE OF STONE flows logically from PRINCESS ACADEMY.  There's the inspiration from Miri's actions mentioned at the beginning of the review.  Then there's the fact Britta pretended to be an orphan to reunite with her childhood friend and love.  Without her, Miri - a commoner - would be the prospective princess.  Miri might've forgiven Britta, but that doesn't mean everyone has.  And Danland needs to learn to forgive if it's going to heal the grievances between the peasants and the aristocracy.

PALACE OF STONE is a terrific character-driven political thriller, for kids or not.  Fans of history will appreciate the ersatz French Revolution that hangs heavy over the characters' heads.  Once again, Hale delivers a terrific story.  PALACE OF STONE is worth the wait.

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