by Shannon Hale
First sentence: “Miri woke to the rustle of a feather-stuffed quilt.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Princess Academy, Palace of Stone
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves of my place of employment.
Content: There’s some violence, but nothing graphic. And some kissing, which may be ew-inducing in the younger set. Still, I think it belongs in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though it might do better with the 5-7th graders.
Miri finished her year at the Palace and was looking forward to going back home to Mount Eskel, seeing her family, enjoying getting back to the life she once had before the Princess Academy changed her path. But, her winding road isn’t finished yet: the neighboring country, Stora, is threatening invasion, and in order to pacify them King Bjorn has offered up some distant cousins as a bride to the aging Storan king. And Miri is sent, unwilling and unprepared, to the swamp of Lesser Alvan to find these cousins and whip them into shape for a royal wedding.
What Miri finds when she gets to the swamp are three motherless girls — Astrid, Felissa, and Sus — who have been resourceful enough to find a way to survive without the help of the castle. They were supposed to be getting an allowance, which has been stolen by the local village overlord. They were supposed to have servants and a family, and they’ve been robbed of that, too. However, they made to, and once Miri figured out how to connect with them, things went well.
In fact, Astrid and Sus were my favorite characters. Felissa was nice enough — her main characteristic, as Hale often reminded us, was smiling — but Astrid was tough, no-nonsense, responsible, and just plain amazing. Sus soaked up the knowledge, and there’s a scene at the end (I won’t spoil it) where she talks coolly and rationally and logically and in the end makes everyone listen to her. Miri,too, was a bastion of resourcefulness: she adapted to the swamp life and fought back against the bandits and robber barons. She fought for justice and did so in a way that wasn’t violent.
The thing that kept running through my mind while reading this was that it was a girl power book, but not in the way we usually think of it. Usually, we want our girls to be like guys: kicking butt, fighting. But, Hale has given us girls and women who Do Things and stand up to people without violence, without force. In fact, you can look at this book as the myriad of ways women survive what men in power do to them. From making decisions to making war to actual physical violence, men can be (are often?) cruel and unthinking. But, women can survive and flourish.
It never got didactic or heavy-handed, though I did think some of the twists and turns of plot were a bit much. It came together in the end, though, in a very satisfying way. Because above all, Hale is a consummate storyteller. And this is definitely a good story.