The Princess Academy‘s riveting sequel, Palace of Stone, didn’t immediately rivet me. Let me explain this strange and—to many of you—somewhat offensive statement. Shannon Hale has a very distinctive, lyrical writing style that seems to flow effortlessly. In reality, it’s probably not quite as effortless to write as it is to read. Regardless, this writing works very well in descriptive writing, but doesn’t lend itself quite as well to immediate action. And immediate, right-out-of-the-starting-blocks action isn’t really Hale’s thing.
Luckily, I’m not one who judges a book by the beginning. I judge a book on a variety of factors, and a slow start is hardly a deal-breaker. In fact, a slow start is often necessary to the progression of a story, to properly setting the scene and the tone. In Palace of Stone, the beginning serves to illustrate Miri’s conflicting feelings, a dichotomy that is a crucial factor in the rest of the book. By the time Miri and I became accustomed to her new home in Asland, her scholarly routine at the Queen’s Castle, and her nights at Sisela’s Salon discussing revolutionary ideas, I’m completely entranced.
So while Miri fits in her studying with her duties as a lady of the princess, she also discovers politics. Hale has a way of describing politics in a way that makes the intricacies comprehensible as well as interesting. And, of course, Miri being Miri, she involves herself in them and new ideas while trying to retain her identity as a child of Mount Eskel. Bring in Timon (whom I’ve never liked due in part to his name reminding me of the meerkat from The Lion King), Sisela, and a bubbling revolution, and you have all the elements of a great story: a conflict between the rich and the shoeless, revolution and the status quo, Timon and Peder, Mount Eskel Miri and Asland Miri.
As would be expected, Miri’s practical, straightforward personality and wisdom plus some new, interesting linder abilities, wins the days. On a parting note, I love this quote about writing on page 146: “Letter writing was a lot like quarry-speaking—a soundless call from far away.”