Jan 5, 2013
Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale
All my waiting was not in vain because Palace of Stone did not disappoint. Not one bit.
The story begins several months (maybe even a full year?) after Princess Academy ended. Miri has received letters from Katar and Britta in Asland, inviting her, as well as several of the other academy graduates, to come stay for a year. Miri has the opportunity to attend the Queen's Castle, the prestigious university where she can continue her studies. The other girls will help Britta prepare for her upcoming wedding. Peder gets to come, too, and apprentice a stone sculptor. But once Miri arrives in Asland, she encounters political unrest, traitorous plots, an intelligent, good-looking boy, and a wealth of knowledge--all things she was not expecting.
I didn't read too many reviews ahead of time, but from what I did read, the general feeling seemed to be one of satisfaction but not adoration. People said it was fine but not as good as Princess Academy.
This was not my feeling at all.
In fact, if I had to put one over the other (which I would hate to do since I loved them both), I would surely say that I liked Palace of Stone more.
First of all, it didn't take away any of the things I loved about Princess Academy. Miri is still her intelligent, kind, and strong-willed self. Linder and quarry-speaking still play a huge part in the story. Peder is still there, quiet and strong. Miri and her friends still pull together to solve many of the problems. (I was so glad there were a couple of instances in this book where they all told a story together, each taking up where the other one left off, just like in Princess Academy.) Doter's bits of wisdom are still sprinkled throughout. And it still has some exciting, nail-biting moments.
But then on top of all the things I already loved, it also added some depth and dimension that I didn't find in the first story.
For example, the threatened revolution provides a lot of parallels to actual historical events (such as the French Revolution) and also raises a lot of moral and ethical questions. As a smaller example, linder is explained in greater detail and Miri learns how quarry-speaking is possible and how the linder stone can affect even those who did not grow up cutting it out of the mountain. And then, even deeper than those two examples is Miri's own personal growth as she asks herself difficult questions and decides what she really wants in life. I also thought that life on Mount Eskel and life in Asland contrasted and intertwined and complemented each other in a beautiful way.
One of the big questions Miri asks herself is whether or not she should return to Mount Eskel and the life she left behind. At first, she thinks she should because Mount Eskel has always defined who she is and what she can do. But then a friend tells her, "You are not bound by your birth. You can be who you will." And then Miri thinks: "Is that true? I am not simply Laren's daughter or Marda's sister or the girl my mother held for a week before she died. I am not formed from the mountain alone. I am the girl who left the mountain. I am the face in the mirror, the thoughts in my head. I am not made of them. I am me." I thought this really captured so well the essence of Miri's growing maturity throughout the story.
I didn't know if I was going to like a book about revolution, but I did, and I think the main reason it worked for me was because Shannon Hale took this large event that was affecting thousands of people and brought it down to the level of one. There is a moment in the story where Miri is thinking about how some things can never be replaced. She thinks of an ancient king's diary and the history of Mount Eskel (tying the two places together and also contrasting one person to many over the generations). And then she thinks of her mother and Esa's fat-cheeked baby brother, who both died, and I think at that moment she really begins to realize that you can't measure the value or worth of something based solely on how far their influence reaches. Not all authors can pull a story together so neatly and perfectly. But Shannon Hale did in this one.
I also liked Peder's more active role in this story. I liked having him in the same city as Miri where she could stop by and visit him and watch him in his work. I liked watching their sweet friendship and romance. And I liked adding Timon, another Queen's Castle scholar, into the picture and creating a little love triangle, at least for a short time.
And of course, as always, I loved Shannon Hale's beautiful language. Here is one of my favorite descriptions: "And the strange spring snow fell only in that golden moment of dawn, the turning of the page between night and day." Beautiful.
From the reviews I read, it seems like some readers don't think this has any Newbery potential, and I don't understand that. It seems like an exceptional contribution to children's literature. It is not only beautifully written but really shows how different cultures and people and classes can come together.
I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone (so stop reading now if you haven't read the book), but I loved the way the book ended. After Miri decides her life does not have to be comprised of constantly choosing between two different things she loves, she realizes she can choose both. She takes Peder's hand and the book says they "walked toward home." Since she is walking in the direction of Asland, and if she kept going she would also reach Mount Eskel, the word "home" can literally mean both of those places. What a perfect way to end a perfect story.