The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale

The Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale, was published in 2015 by Bloomsbury. It is the sequel to Palace of Stone.

After a year at the palace, Miri and her friends are ready to return home to their beloved Mount Eskel. But when the king orders Miri to start her own princess academy in a faraway swamp for three royal cousins, she is utterly dismayed. She must go on this journey alone, away from everyone she loves and everything she knows. Miri’s new students are not at all what she expected. Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting, fishing, and wrestling than learning about etiquette and history, and they know next to nothing about their royal ancestry. As Miri spends more time with the girls, she starts to suspect that they are part of a long-buried secret, and that the key to uncovering the truth rests in her and the sisters’ hands. With her new friends at her side, Miri must gather all her strength to solve the mystery—and finally make her way back home.

Rating: 2/5

The Forgotten Sisters ranks lower than Palace of Stone only because I thought the message of the latter was stronger—and because the middle of The Forgotten Sisters is a bit of a trudge to read. I’m not sure if it was quite necessary to even have this book, but clearly popular demand led Hale to write another. The plot is a little bit of a mess, although I suppose, in retrospect, you could argue that Hale does indicate something in Palace of Stone in terms of the queen’s sorrow that could potentially tie to this novel. But for me, the plot seemed a little stilted and a little thrown together, and the reasoning behind it all was tied to a brief, flimsy little story told hastily in the beginning of the novel and never dwelled on again.

However, I will say that the ending of the novel was delightful, all thanks to Sus. The entirety of the section with the girls in the Queen’s Castle was good, but Sus (and Kaspar) just made it all that much better. It was cute, funny, and exactly the sort of matter-of-fact dialogue in a tense situation that I love to see executed well (the kind that just ignores all the mean people glaring and simply carries on a conversation in a subtly brilliant way).

Princess Academy is definitely the strongest in the series, with the two sequels not entirely necessary, in my opinion. Hale manages to pull some things together for The Forgotten Sisters, but overall the plot is a little contrived and the pace drags in the middle. There’s also some flowery bits of description that fall a little flat, at least in my opinion. But the ending is charming, and at least the book ended on a high note. However, if Hale writes another one of these, I probably won’t read it, as they’ve declined in quality since the first.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Something you didn’t know, Astrid,” said Miri. “Something I was able to teach you.”

Astrid shrugged. “All you did was put a fancy name to what we can already do.”

Miri opened her mouth to answer but had nothing to say.

Astrid passed very close to Miri on her way outside and whispered, “And I’m older than you, tutor.”

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Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, was published in 2012 by Bloomsbury. It is the sequel to The Princess Academy.

When Miri and a few of the girls from Mount Eskel’s princess academy travel to the capital to help the princess-to-be get ready for her wedding, they have no idea what to expect. Some are worried about leaving their beloved mountain for the first time, others are thrilled about going to the big city, and Miri is mostly just happy to see her best friend. But not everything in Asland is as perfect as the mountain girls hoped. As Miri learns more about her new home, she finds herself deep in the middle of an upheaval that affects everyone she loves. Torn between her loyalty to the princess and her belief in her new friends’ daring ideas, and between an old love and a new crush, Miri must test the strengths and skills she gained in the princess academy.

Rating: 3/5

I didn’t like Palace of Stone as much as I liked Princess Academy, if only because the “commoners rebel against the government” plot is overdone to the point of tediousness, but I still enjoyed many aspects of it. Miri is a good protagonist; when she makes mistakes, she tries to fix them, and she is loyal to her friends regardless of the different ideas they hold. I appreciate it when a protagonist doesn’t have to ruin friendships because of differing beliefs, but rather respects them.

I’m also glad that the love triangle aspect wasn’t so much of a love triangle as a “country girl is dazzled by city life and city boys” and it fit very nicely with Miri being torn between Asland and Mount Eskel. I buy the quick, “new boy” romantic bedazzlement that fizzles in the face of reality more than the drawn out, prolonged love triangles prevalent in YA lit.

Palace of Stone lost some of the things that made Princess Academy special, and isn’t exactly a necessary sequel, but it does have some good things in it and the overdone plot is handled mostly well, if a trifle melodramatically at times. Miri’s inner turmoil and feelings of being torn between two worlds were the best thing about the book, in my opinion. I don’t know if the book did enough for me to pick up the next one, but it’s a solid follow-up, if a slightly weaker one.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Miri shook her head. “Whenever our academy tutor or the traders talked of the lowlands, they made it sound so perfect.”

“Nothing’s perfect,” said Katar. She picked up an orange pillow and tucked it under her arms. “I figured at the Queen’s castle you’re in the best position to meet people outside the palace and figure out the situation.”

“So it’s too dangerous for you to be a spy, but that’s exactly what you want me to do?”

“I’m a delegate,” Katar said. “The king’s officials would notice if I went slinking around commoners.”

“Fine, I’ll learn what I can.”

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Princess Academy: The Title Makes It Sound Worse Than It Is

Princess Academy is written by Shannon Hale. It was published in 2005 by Bloomsbury. Hale’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“High on the slopes of rocky Mount Eskel, Miri’s family pounds a living from the stone of the mountain itself. But Miri’s life will change forever when word comes that her small village is the home of the future princess. All eligible girls must attend a makeshift academy to prepare for royal life. At the school, Miri finds herself confronting bitter competition among the girls and her own conflicted desires to be chosen. Yet when danger comes to the academy, it is Miri, named for a tiny mountain flower, who must find a way to save her classmates—and the future of their beloved village.”

Thoughts:

This wasn’t nearly as The Selection-esque as I feared. The girls are really getting educated, something that wasn’t previously available to them, and it makes all of them better able to help their village. The focus of the story isn’t so much on the competition itself as on family and relationships. It’s quite a wonderful story about those two things, really. Miri is a delightful protagonist—quietly unsure of herself, yet not outwardly angsting over her insecurities. Since she doesn’t speak much of her inner feelings, a lot of misunderstanding goes on, which also highlights the importance of communication.

I loved the quarry-speak “magic.” I loved it when Olana is testing them and the girls keep giving each other the answers. Also, the best line in the book is: “These girls are creepy.” Yes. Yes, they are. Creepy awesome, that is.

Peder and Miri’s relationship was so cute. I admit, at one point I thought that Hale was going to go with the obvious “the winner will be the protagonist and she will get the prince” (ala The Selection), but she doesn’t. Like I said, this book is about family and relationships, not fighting for the prince.

The only quibble I have is that it was a trifle convenient with Britta’s situation. But again, the focus was more on Mount Eskel than the prince, and Britta just makes that focus stand out even more.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“Be warned that you will not easily meet my expectations,” said Olana. “I have very real doubts that mountain girls are capable of measuring up to other Danlanders. Your brains are naturally smaller, I’ve heard. Perhaps due to the thin mountain air?”

Miri glowered. Even if Olana’s promises were true, Miri would not want to marry a lowlander, a person who despised her and the mountain. Prince or no, he would be like Olana, like Enrik and the traders, like the chief delegate frowning at the sight of the mountain folk and all too eager to get back into his carriage and drive away.

She rubbed her eyes, and the clay on her fingers got under her lids and made them sting. She was tired of lowlanders belittling her and tired of wondering if they were right. She was going to show Olana that she was as smart as any Danlander. She was going to be academy princess.

~Hale 61

Miri sang the memory into the earth—the fly drumming on the window, Olana declaring the years, the class repeating. Perhaps Gerti had noticed the fly, too. Perhaps with that nudge, the memory would come forward for her and the sound of those years fall from her mind to her tongue. Miri’s vision shivered, her thoughts clicked, that moment painted itself in full color in her mind, but Gerti’s face did not change. Miri tried again, her quarry-speech song roaring inside her.

“If you haven’t remembered by now, Gerti, you won’t,” said Olana. “Now then, Liana, please name—”

“Two hundred and…” Gerti looked up. She appeared to be trying to taste something peculiar or identify a distant smell. “Two hundred and twelve to two hundred and, uh, seventy. Seventy-six, I mean, seventy-six.”

~Hale 188

Overall Review:

Princess Academy is not as much about the competition as I feared, but about family, relationships, and communication. It’s a delightful book with a delightful protagonist who both saves the day and helps her friends to save the day, too.

You can buy this here: Princess Academy