Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

Palace of Stone--Shannon Hale
August 2012 by Bloomsbury USA
323 pages--Goodreads

Coming down from the mountain to a new life in the city is a thrill to Miri. She and her princess academy friends have been brought to Asland to help the future princess Britta prepare for her wedding.There, Miri also has a chance to attend school-at the Queen's Castle. But as Miri befriends students who seem sophisticated and exciting she also learns that they have some frightening plans. 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.

When I heard that Shannon Hale was publishing Palace of Stone, my first thought was "No; Princess Academy's story is complete.  It does not need a sequel.  A sequel would diminish the story that already exists."  I still hold that position, but Palace of Stone isn't a sequel, weird as that sounds.  Yes, it takes place in the same world with the same characters, but it's not a sequel.  Rather than stretching the Mount Eskel story beyond what it has material for, Palace of Stone is its own story.  Hale explores new situations and new locations while holding onto the characters and spirit we love from the first book.

The political situation is excellently crafted.  Hale poses complicated situations that I think her younger readers will miss the nuances of, but I love them.  We Americans tend to be a overly gung-ho in support of revolutions, but Hale asks the hard questions.  Is it better to support the stability of a bad ruler while some people starve, or to incite rebellion which may improve things or may lead to complete anarchy and widespread starvation and violence?  This part of the plot is wrapped up a bit too easily and neatly, but Miri faces the issue's complexity enough that I'll take it.

Hale even makes a love triangle work!  This is no "Team Edward/Team Jacob" clone thrown in to garner sales from angsty teenage girls or to cover up lack of substance elsewhere in the plot. The triangle is used more as an external representation of Miri's torn allegiance between the familiarity of home and the excitement of new experiences in Asland, which is a much more interesting tension than a romantic one.

I love the characters; I love the world; I love the plot;  I love Hale's writing style.  Palace of Stone was exactly what I needed after a massive disappointment from a different book.

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