by Shannon Hale
From the author of The Goose Girl and Enna Burning (both of which have
been recommended to me) comes this Newberry Honor Book set in the fictional
country of Danland, in a world similar to medieval Europe. Too small and
remote to be a province of Danland, the territory of Mount Eskel consists of
one village and makes its living from one natural resource: the mountain
itself. Apart from what they can get from raising goats and rabbits, the
villagers rely on a mineral called linder - similar,
perhaps, to marble - which they quarry out of the mountainside and trade for
other goods. From time to time their vein of linder gives out, and the whole
village has to move to another digging site.
Though this may provide only a meagre subsistence, it satisfies the people
of Mount Eskel...until a delegate from the government arrives one
trading-day and announces that the next Queen of Danland will come from
their village. Every girl between the age of 12 and 17 must attend a
Princess Academy, which has been set up in the mountain pass below the
village, and learn letters, history, geography, commerce, diplomacy, poise,
and whatever else a lady of the court should know. Their stern tutor Olanna
cracks the whip of discipline, warning the girls that whoever scores highest
will be the first to dance with the Prince at his upcoming ball, where he
will choose his future bride from among them - and whoever fails will be
sent home without attending the ball at all.
One of these girls is Miri, a pretty 14-year-old who lives in shame because
her father refuses to let her set foot in the quarry. She only wants to
prove herself useful enough that her father will change his mind. Fiercely
loyal to her sister Marda, beginning to yearn for a village boy named Peder,
Miri isn't sure she wants to marry a prince. And more than the other girls,
she chafes against Olanna's authority. But Miri is also driven to succeed,
to learn, and to use her knowledge to help the community. She discovers
qualities in herself, such as friendship and leadership, that no one
expected; and she learns some amazing things about the linder that is so
central to life on Mount Eskel. Plus, the chance of giving her family a
better life fills her with confusion as to what she really wants.
The ball comes and goes. Guess who gets the first dance with the Prince? But he
leaves suddenly without making a decision; a storm closes the pass for the
winter; and while the girls and their tutor are still taking stock of the
situation, the academy is threatened by a danger no one has foreseen. Guess
who saves the day?
By the time the prince comes back, a year later, to make his final choice,
you may think there are no surprises left. But I'll bet you won't guess how
it all turns out! Like a sophisticated fairy tale where "happily ever after"
doesn't mean what you expect, this uplifting story focuses on a girl whose
wit and character improve the lives of everyone around her. If you would
like to know such a girl, meet Miri in Princess Academy.
Recommended Age: 13+
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