by Shannon Hale
Conditional Recommendation: A young girl from a small mountain village must decide who to believe, who she wants to be, and which side to take amidst the political unrest of the lowland city.
I had no idea what to expect with this second book because Princess Academy was wrapped up so nicely. The scope and contents of the story are entirely different than the small lives of the mountain community of the first book, but I read this book in one sitting, unable to put it down!
In this second book in New York Times bestselling, Newbery Honor-winning author Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy series, Miri embarks on a brand new life in the city. Coming down from the mountain to a new city life is a thrill to Miri. She and her princess academy friends have come to Asland to help the future princess Britta prepare for her wedding. There, Miri also has a chance to attend school–at the prestigious Queen’s Castle. But as Miri befriends sophisticated and exciting students, she also learns that they have some frightening plans for a revolution. 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, Miri looks to find her own way in this new place.
This book almost can’t be compared to Princess Academy because of how different it is and how much Miri grows throughout this story, but that’s what I like the most: Miri’s character develops a great deal. She goes from being a simple mountain girl to an educated young woman who is able to sway a city and its king and queen. Through the conflicts she faces she must grow up in new ways, learn to think new thoughts, and learn how to choose what is right and what is wrong. I thought her growth was complex and well-done. The changes Miri goes through are similar to those of a high school graduate leaving to attend college. They must decide who they are away from their family, from a community who knows them well, and if they will be defined by the place they come from or the actions they take.
Change and conflict are the cause for Miri’s character growth. When she moves to the city, she must adapt to a new, more complex culture, one with ranks and poverty and political unrest. When she attends the university, she must apply herself more diligently than any of the other students because her education on the mountain was so lacking compared to the basic education of the city. When she lives in the palace with Britta, she must learn how to be a friend but also discover if she believes that the monarchy is good for the people who are being taxed to starvation. At many times, she is pulled in two directions: towards her home on the mountain and towards her new life in the lowland city; towards steady Pader and towards a young scholar with grand ideas and passions; towards Princess Britta and towards the plight of the commoners. The story centers around Miri’s process of deciding where she stands and who she stands with all while time is running out for her to choose.
Though Pader’s and Miri’s relationship has developed from where it left off in Princess Academy, it takes a turn of uncertainty when they arrive in the city and settle into their new ways of life: Pader as an apprentice with a stone carver and Miri as a Princess’ Lady and a university scholar. I love Pader and his sure, steady ways—especially his tendency to assume Miri understands how he feels about her even though he hasn’t communicated any of his thoughts. In my own experience, I’d say this can be true to life! Romance plays a bigger role in this book as Miri desires to become betrothed. There is some kissing but nothing beyond that and I enjoyed Miri’s innocence as she navigates uncertainty in a relationship.
This book has more complex themes than the first book: betrothal, ethics, politics, higher education, and political revolutions. It is imperative to read Princess Academy before this book as many scenes, conversations, and lessons learned play a big role in this sequel and the reader would miss the significance of many things without having read the first book. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys princesses, kingdoms, political conflicts, or is experiencing a change in circumstances that force them to choose who they are going to be in life.