Palace of Stone (Princess Academy #2)FeaturedHot
Coming down from the mountain to a new life in the city seems a thrill beyond imagining. When Miri and her friends from Mount Eskel set off to help the future princess Britta prepare for her royal wedding, she is happy about her chance to attend school in the capital city. There, Miri befriends students who seem so sophisticated and exciting . . . until she learns that they have some frightening plans. They think that Miri will help them, that she "should "help them. Soon Miri finds herself torn between loyalty to the princess and her new friends' ideas, between an old love and a new crush, and between her small mountain home and the bustling city. Picking up where "Princess Academy "left off, this incredible stand-alone story celebrates the joys of friendship, the delight of romance, and the fate of a beloved fairy tale kingdom
I ought not have fretted. In PALACE OF STONE, Shannon Hale both surprised me with where she took Miri, Katar, Britta, Peder and all the others -- and yet, as soon as I started reading, it seemed there was no other story that could possibly have existed. It didn't feel like Shannon Hale chose a direction and decided that's what would happen to Miri; rather, it felt like Miri had dragged her along and made her write everything down, so it could be told properly.
At the end of Princess Academy, and again at the beginning of PALACE OF STONE, Miri notices how much bigger the world feels, and so, naturally enough, this story takes her and the other Mount Eskel girls to the big city, where they soon find themselves embroiled in a deep and growing political divide between the haves and the have-nots. More than that, the conflict focuses on whether simply being born royal, or born a peasant, is the determining factor in your worth. This echoes one of the themes of Princess Academy, where the Mount Eskel girls were dismissed as uneducated country bumpkins, until they more than proved their worth.
In this, and other, ways PALACE OF STONE follows naturally on from Princess Academy, both in the growth of the characters, and the logical results of their actions. It allows Miri to explore in a more thoughtful way her feelings about Peder, and for Britta to assert her place both as the queen to be, and as the prince's true beloved, without pretense.
And of course, the story is beautifully told, its tempo just right and the tension and resolution perfectly balanced. It is a pleasure to read, and will entrance both those who came to love Miri in Princess Academy, and those encountering her for the first time. Like Princess Academy, PALACE OF STONE could stand alone, although I recommend reading them in order, as the first adds its own resonance to the second. And there are times (particularly towards the end) when knowing about the magic the girls discovered in Princess Academy will make events in PALACE OF STONE more comprehensible.
The themes in both books, but perhaps even more so in PALACE OF STONE, are grand and important -- justice, revolution, the divine right of kingship, poverty and greed, ignorance, education and courage -- oh so many! Yet none of them are dealt with in a heavy-handed manner. One could read this story as a suspenseful romance and coming-of-age story, and be done. Yet older, or more thoughtful, readers will find much food for thought as they journey along with Miri, and perhaps wonder whether they might someday have the same strength of character, the same bravery and loyalty as Miri shows.
Complex, intriguing political drama -- with romance!
Miri is a fantastic character. She is loyal to her friends and family and even though she struggles with where she belongs, ulitmately she stays true to herself.
If you were a fan of the first book, then you cannot miss out on this one. Even if you haven't read Princess Academy I think you could read this and enjoy it. Overall, this is a beautiful book that should not be missed.
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.
Now that Miri’s friend Britta has become the new princess, she has invited Miri and the other academy girls to the capital of Danland to see her wedding. Miri is not only excited to see the lowlands but also scared to leave behind Mount Eskel for those few months. And when she reaches her destination, she enters the Queen’s Castle, a prestigious academy for scholars where she meets another boy (who may become Peder’s rival for Miri’s heart) and she can learn even more. And learn she does—because she discovers that there is revolution brewing in the streets of Asland. People have been inspired by Miri’s own little revolution in Mount Eskel, and they are silently planning to overthrow the king himself.
Throughout the novel there is a recurring theme of old vs. new. Miri has the toughest decisions in attempting to decide between Mount Eskel and the capital, between Peder and a new crush, and between her loyalty to Britta and the allure of the revolution. I thought this was ingenious of Shannon Hale, especially since indecision is relevant to all of us. Both sides tug at her heart, and she has no idea what she should choose.
I’ll admit that I had an idea of what she would choose in the end (I was rooting for that side, after all), but the novel was not predictable. At all. (Well, minus the fact that I figured out who was the “new crush” when I first met him.)
I’m sad to say that there’s less of a focus on linder magic in Palace of Stone, but there is a little magic mystery that would make any fantasy lovers happy.
The romance in this novel was TOO adorable. I don’t want to give anything away, but I completely kyaaa-ed when [insert name] [insert action] Miri. I’m a long diehard fan of that couple, so I was a bit annoyed when Shannon Hale thrust them apart for a while (bleh, why must they both be too busy for each other at times?) but I was satisfied in the end. (Awwww.)
I love how in Princess Academy, Miri learned to become book-smart, but in this book, Miri learned how to become street-smart. The concept of revolution has really changed her perspective on what she thought was the norm, but her loyalty to Britta keeps her anchored. I’ve always thought of Miri as a strong girl, and seeing her crumble like this at times made me a little sad—but I was proud of her in the end because she finally figured out her own way to solve her problems.
Shannon Hale’s writing is exceptional. Though the description and diction isn’t particularly incredible, Hale’s style of writing seems almost magical. It evokes the idea of a fairytale—which certainly came in handy when she wrote her Books of Bayern series. Her writing is fluid and distinctive, and it wraps the story up in a pretty red bow.
Overall, Palace of Stone is one of Shannon Hale’s best works. The beautiful writing wraps the intriguing plot and the likable characters into a superb, thought-provoking work of art. Simply phenomenal.
Source: Galley received from publisher for review
Palace of Stone picks up about six months after Princess Academy leaves off. Considering the events of the first book, Miri is a very different girl at the beginning of book two than she was at the beginning of book one. She still has the same spirit, the same fire, and in many ways the same self-doubts. But she also has a hope for a wider world, a vision for her village, and a knowledge of her own strength. She has learned that if something needs to be done, she can't wait around for someone else to do it.
It's this Miri that travels with the traders' wagons, five other academy girls, and Peder, down the mountain to their capital, Asland. There they find a world wider than their imaginings, a city teeming with people, buildings and castles, libraries, an ocean. But their wagon has barely stopped before they realize that all in the lowlands is not as idyllic as it appears. There are poor in the city as well as on the mountain, and the king is demanding more tributes than the people can pay. When Miri realizes that her own village may soon suffer the same extortion from the crown, her loyalties are quickly divided between the rising revolutionaries and her friends within the palace.
In a way, Palace of Stone serves as a kind of introduction to the revolutions in our own histories, drawing from images of the American and French revolutions, while ever being grounded in Miri's own world. She serves as a kind of filter through which the reader can grapple with the same questions. Questions of justice, the right and wrong power of a government, and the same right and wrong power of the mob. Ultimately, it is a reminder that behind every question of justice, power, right and wrong, there are individual people whose stories matter.
In a way, the stories of these two books are surprisingly similar. In both, Miri faces repeated circumstances where something is just unfair. In Princess Academy, though, it is clear what that fairness means. She is surrounded by twenty other girls about her own age who are directly affected by her choices. In Palace of Stone, Miri realizes that her choices can have a direct affect on an entire nation. At first, this thrills her. But the responsibilities that come with that kind of influence can be dangerous. She will understand it best when she sees the entire nation - the king and the shoeless alike - the way she saw the other girls at the academy. People she knows, understands, and with whom she shares a fate of either violence or peace.
In all other ways, though, these books are very different. You don't have to have read Princess Academy to read Palace of Stone - though I suspect some familiarity with the magic of the place would be helpful, especially in the story's later moments. It definitely helps in understanding Miri's homesickness, as the reader cannot help but fall in love with the rough, beautiful Mount Eskel in the first book. Wherever you are in your reading of Shannon Hale's canon, take a moment for this one. It's worth it.