Can I just say again how glad I am that I discovered Shannon Hale‘s YA fiction. It is so great!
I read Princess Academy last week. I admit it took me a bit to get into it. I wasn’t sold on her world immediately, but once things got rolling I was immersed.
Miri is small for her age, and lives in on Mount Eskel where everyone who can works at the linder quarry: strength is counted a definite asset. Miri’s father has forbidden her from working at the quarry, so she tends to the house and garden for her father and sister. Since everyone her age started workinga t the quarry, Miri feels increasingly isolated. One day, a messenger comes to Mount Eskel to announce that the royal diviners have seen that the next princess will come from Mount Eskel. As a result, all of the girls aged 13 to 17 in the village must attend the newly created princess academy, to prepare themselves for the possibility of marrying the prince in one year. Now Miri has somewhere new to try and fit in, but she also must participate in the fierce competition to be chosen as top of the class.
This was a cute story, and I liked Miri more and more as the book went along. In fact, the more I got to know about the characters, the more I liked all of them: Miri’s quiet father; Katar, the oldest girl and the academy with the strong personality; and Britta, an outsider herself who befriends Miri after the other girls at the academy shun her. Hale has some really unique ideas too, that seem to be a common theme in her YA books (well, the three I’ve read so far); her characters are usually very in tune with the natural environment around them. This really appeals to me. The people of Mount Eskel, for example, have a real connection with linder, the stone they harvest. Hale’s descriptions of this connection, and how Miri and the other characters discover more about it, are fantastic.
Enna Burning is the sequel (ok, they call it a companion novel but I really think it is a sequel. Let’s just call a spade a spade, ok people? Less confusion.) to The Goose Girl. I will say I enjoyed The Goose Girl more, but I loved Enna just as much after reading this book as I loved Isi after reading The Goose Girl.
When Enna returns to the forest to care for her sick mother, she stays on after her mother’s death to look after her brother Leifer. One day Leifer comes home with a mysterious piece of vellum, and he seems to be able to create fire out of nothing. He has changed in other ways too, and Enna isn’t sure if this talent with fire is good or bad for him. Meanwhile, the kingdom of Bayern is going to war with the neighbouring kingdom of Tira. When Enna learns the secret of fire too, she is torn between staying away from creating fire and using it to defend Bayern.
I was saying above that in Hale‘s YA books, the characters have a special connection to nature: in this book, Enna’s connected to fire. [Spoiler alert] She can feel the heat in all living things around her, and draw on it to create fire. This is the same world as The Goose Girl, where people have the talent of speaking with birds or animals, the wind (in Isi’s case), fire (in Enna and Leifer’s cases), and some have the talent of people-speaking (persuading others with their speech).
[Ok, real spoiler alert… for real this time…] The only thing that bothered me about this book was that Enna killed so many people by lighting them on fire, and I thought the horror of it was downplayed a bit too much. I felt like the knowledge of having done this would have driven Enna crazy. I know it’s a YA book, and I know that war is war, but if you’re going to burn people alive in a book (very disturbing!), at least put enough about how terrible that is into the book. That said, this could just be my Happy Stories Only complex shining through… 😉 And really, this is mostly a happy story with a great ending! I must say, Hale has a knack for good endings.