As ever, Shannon Hale's writing is a treat. Writing style, of course, is such a subjective qualification. Hale's writing has a sort of weighted simplicity that I really admire. I can sort of sense how much thought she put into her word choices, into the compositions of the snatches of song, to make them just right. While most of the sentences are not especially complex, they are not at all haphazardly thrown together.
Shannon said that this book can be read independently of Princess Academy. That's true, I suppose, but I really would recommend that course of action. For one thing, Princess Academy is amazing, and why would you read the slightly less awesome second book in the series and not the book that started it at all. That would be silly, and not just because reading books out of series order offends my sensibilities.
Based on this statement that Palace of Stone can stand alone, I really expected this book to follow a different Mount Eskel girl, though I didn't really have a plan in mind as to which of them it would be (obviously, I didn't read the description at all). However, that is not the case at all. Miri is again our intrepid heroine. She remains clever, determined and full of good humor, and the best choice for a heroine. She spends more time in Palace of Stone downhearted, though, less sure of herself than she was in Princess Academy.
In this book, Shannon introduces a love triangle, which serves as a metaphor for Miri's concerns about her future. Peder represents Mount Eskel, solid, reliable and comfortable; Timon, a fellow student, represents a possible future in Asland, studying and adventuring. I saw the love triangle less as being about the boys themselves than about her indecision about what she wants her life to be. Does she want to stay in the city or to return to Mount Eskel? Hale handled this rather deftly, although I thought the final conclusion of it a bit oversimplified and too black and white.
What I found frustrating about Palace of Stone that lowered my rating was that I felt that Hale got a bit too lecture-y. As she mentions in the book, rhetoric dictates that it is better to tell a story to teach than to lecture. That, obviously, is what she's trying to do, but the lesson underneath is too apparent. The plot of Palace of Stone deals with the impending revolution. As such, there are many discussions of ethics and monarchy and such. They all just seemed a bit over the top and forced. They could have been worked in more naturally, shown more rather than told.
Part of that stems from the fact that the driving force of the plot is Katar's request that Miri help her figure out which side Mount Eskel should back in this political minefield. Should they side with King Bjorn and the nobles or with the 'shoeless,' the commoners? Katar presents this as something crucial that needs to be resolved immediately. Miri duly agrees to go sniff around and learn what she can, and gets involved with a revolutionary group. Through all of this, she never reports back with anything at all substantial to Katar. Thought it was imperative that Mount Eskel choose a side posthaste, Miri doesn't give Katar a plan until almost a year later. Hale's attempt to establish a sense of urgency and Miri's reaction made me seriously frustrated, and that diminished my liking for Miri a bit.
I realize that got a bit ranty. I still quite enjoyed Palace of Stone, but I just didn't feel like it lived up to Princess Academy. If you enjoyed PA, though, I recommend reading this one anyway. If you haven't read PA, go do that.