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REVIEW: Hale puts new twist on fairy tales

staff writer

Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 01:02

Many of us are used to the classic "girl-is-in-distress-and-a-handsome-man-comes-to-save-her" fairy tale, and we all know that man is generally a prince. We hardly ever get to hear about their "happily ever after."

But Shannon Hale's "Princess Academy" takes the classic storyline to a whole different level.

There are no weak girls who fall under some curse or have some horrible stepfamily to make it all go horribly wrong for them. Instead, you get to see a small society where women are equal to men, where they work just as hard as men, and are sometimes even respected more for their wisdom. It's certainly a different take than most fairytales have.

Why is it called "Princess Academy"? What fairy tale could that relate to? It doesn't relate to any one fairy tale, and it's not retelling of any specific story. In this story, girls are chosen to go to an academy where they will learn how to be a princess and eventually a queen, so the prince can choose his bride from the selection of girls. How was the selection of girls chosen? The priests would divine the province where the future princess would come from, and then they would send the girls through the academy and let the prince choose his wife.

It takes place in a small mountain village where the people quarry for a valuable stone called linder, but while they have such an important trade item, the kingdom doesn't consider the village, Mount Eskel, a province. The way the system is set up, and how the traders, who are part of the kingdom, treat the citizens from the mountain really shows how some societies work and how the societal structure makes a difference. Even though it is set in the past, the truth to how it works still applies today.

Hale does an amazing job with her characters. As you read, you realize there is so much more to them than meets the eye. With the main character, Miri, you realize this almost as soon as you start reading. But many of Miri’s friends have much deeper back stories than they appear at first, such as Britta and Katar, some of the girls Miri went to the academy with. You get to see sides of them revealed that other books don’t always reveal, and it makes the book that much more fascinating.

Not only do the characters have more story behind them, but their home, Mount Eskel, has many stories behind it that add to the story. Hale works in tales of the mountain in with the plot, between traditions they participate in or just general storytelling, which helps the entire book fit together.

Hale is amazingly poetic in her writing, something I have not seen in many of the books I have read that have similar plots. She’s well detailed but not overly detailed to the point where it bores you, like I get during too much description. The story flows beautifully and moves along at a great pace. It’s never too slow, but you’re never thinking she needs to slow down either. The editor did a great job at reviewing, so there are no grammatical errors that distract from the book.

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