"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
September 11, 2012
Palace of Stone: Fighting to Have It All
by Erin Cowles

I'm not one for reading an author's complete works. There are countless talented authors I want to experience, and I usually opt for a new voice over a familiar one when I'm browsing the library shelves. Despite this, every time Shannon Hale comes out with a new YA book, I pick it up. There's something about her lyricism and the way she imagines her fantasy elements that I find irresistible.

After a seven-year wait, fans of Hale's Princess Academy have been rewarded with a sequel: Palace of Stone. In the first book, Miri learns the power of education and her own strength when the king names Mount Eskel, her isolated mountain village, the home of the future princess. A “Princess Academy” is created to train the potential princesses, and Miri attends. The prince chooses his close childhood friend, Britta, as his future bride, but Miri uses the skills she learned at the academy to negotiate better trading prices for her village, save her friends from bandits, and establish a school in her village.

In the sequel, Miri and several other Mount Eskelites (including her romantic interest, Peder) travel to the capital to attend Britta's royal wedding and take advantage of the learning opportunities available in the city. However, she arrives in the middle of a political firestorm. The majority of citizens are starving and desperate, the ruling class is overwhelmingly indifferent, and the people are on the brink of rebellion.

Miri finds herself torn in many directions. She's torn between the limitless educational opportunities available at the city's university and missing her home and family. She's torn between her childhood love and the passionate and intelligent revolutionary, Timon. But most of all, she's torn between her sense of justice and her loyalty to her royal friends. We cheer for Miri as she fights to have it all – loyalty and idealism, change without destruction, and home and opportunity.

Miri grows a lot between the two books. She retains her spunk, but she's a lot more serious, as she feels incredible pressure to succeed. Her hometown will only gain as much education as she brings home, and she doesn't want to let them down. The palace's threatened policies would destroy her town's livelihood, and she feels pressure to stop it. And her unique position as a fighter for change, but friend of royalty, gives her incredible power over the lives of members of both sides of the conflict. Miri struggles and errs under the heavy load, but she grows into a woman of grace and power. Her journey felt authentic and encouraging.

I recommend reading Princess Academy first. This book could technically stand alone, but Hale spent less time this time on character development outside of Miri, so the story will be much more satisfying if you've read the original and have a solid understanding of who the characters are and what motivates them. And besides, I am of the opinion no one needs an excuse to read another Shannon Hale novel.

Read this book if...

  • Happily ever after doesn't cut it for you, but neither does a soul-crushing “everything is hopeless!” ending; you want nuance without bleakness.
  • You're leaving home, and you want to blend the good of where you came from with the opportunities offered by the place you're going.
  • You want to justify your reading addiction by knowing that your purchase of this book has made the world a better place (Hale is donating part of the proceeds of this book to LDS Humanitarian Services).

Target Audience: Girls, ages 10-16.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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