Palace of Stone is the sequel to the Newbery Medal-winning Princess Academy. I liked Princess Academy and appreciated how Hale played with our expectations of what was going to happen, but it wasn’t one I completely and utterly loved. I’ve also found that Hale’s sequels tend to be less impressive for me than her first books. All of that is to say why it took me so long to read a book by an author who I admire and generally enjoy.
As it happens, Palace of Stone is nearly a standalone. Events from the first book are referenced, and it certainly helps to have read Princess Academy, but the events are distinct enough that it could be read on its own.
Miri and her friends from the Princess Academy travel to Asland, to the flatlands where Britta is engaged to Prince Steffan. But they step into a world that they do not understand, where the nobles take and the Shoeless whisper against them. Miri and the other Eskelians must decide where their allegiances, both personal and political, lie.
The personal side of the story is the part I appreciated the most. Miri struggles to find her place in Asland, but her loyalty to her home and her friends remains central to her character. That her difficulties are reflected in a romantic tangle between Timon, a young man who has aligned himself with the Shoeless and their cause, and Peder, her old friend from Mount Eskel, is actually not something that bothered me too much. Maybe because I was never in any real doubt about what choice she would ultimately make.
I had a more mixed reaction to the political side. The situation is fairly clearly based in some measure on the French revolution. The abuses by the nobles against the Shoeless are shown clearly, and Miri has a lot of sympathy for them, as an outsider herself. On the other hand, Miri’s best friend is engaged to the Prince. That tension drives most of the book.
Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, both the depiction of the different groups and the solution are a little too easy. I know it’s a middle grade novel, and I appreciate that Hale is willing to take on the subject, but I wanted the end result to be a bit messier, to feel less emphatic and determined. (I will also admit that Frances Hardinge has given me perhaps ridiculously high standards when it comes to potrayals of revolution in middle grade books.)
So in the end, I’m glad I read this one, but it’s not my favorite of Hale’s books, nor do I think it’s quite successful in what it sets out to do.
Book source: public library
Book information: 2012, Bloomsbury; middle grade