Literature: Princess Academy

I cut all day and I squared all night
And I thought I'd mined the mountain's might
Then I saw all my work by the bright dawn light
The mountain was the world and my labor a mite

Princess Academy is a young adult novel by Shannon Hale, author of The Goose Girl and Enna Burning.

It tells the story of a 14-year-old mountain girl named Miri, who lives in a small village with her father and older sister on the slopes of Mount Eskel. The villagers make their living mining linder, a type of stone that is hard enough to hold up great palaces and never crack, yet light enough to haul long distances.

One day, a messenger from the king comes to Mount Eskel to declare that all the girls aged 12-18 in the village must attend the titular "princess academy" to prepare for the day when one of them will be the prince's bride. Miri must compete with all the other girls for the chance to marry the prince, but she discovers that maybe there are other things better than being a princess.

Six years after the original novel, Hale released the sequel, Palace of Stone. A third book in the series, currently titled The Forgotten Sisters, was released in 2015.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Britta's father smoked out his daughter after planning to use her as an Unwitting Pawn to marry Prince Stefan.
  • Alpha Bitch: Katar.
    Miri: I'm glad you spoke up or we could still be standing out here waiting.
    Katar: I'm a better diplomat than you and everyone knows it. It should've been me talking. Too bad for you that academy princess isn't based on who everyone likes best.
  • Ass in Ambassador: The chief delegate.
  • Barefoot Poverty: The poor are literally called the shoeless.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Katar gets doses of this.
    • So does Britta's father.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • Britta's father pretended that his daughter would pose as a commoner so that she would have a chance at marrying the prince. In Palace of Stone the king makes Britta into a commoner, stripping her family of their lands.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: The commonfolk and nobles have a good reason to be angry when they have no power going against corrupt nobles, the king tasks them to starvation, and a so-called "fake" commoner like Britta gets the crown. Mount Eskel nearly suffers taxation that would starve the quarry-folk. With that said, the royalty has a point in wanting to fight the Well-Intentioned Extremist revolutionaries that would execute nobles and nearly kill Britta and create anarchy instead of equality.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Discussed. The girls realize that Olana's Sadist Teacher methods is being used on the future queen of the land and if The Dog Bites Back Olana could get Reassigned to Antarctica. They use this to bargain with Olana about the closet.
  • Chekhov's Armory: Of note is the linder hawk that Peder gives to Miri which helps her to defeat Dan. See Improbable Weapon User below.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Quarry-speaking.
  • City Mouse: Britta.
  • Cool Big Sis: Frid and Marda.
  • Costume Porn: The descriptions of the dresses the girls get to wear for the ball. Case in point —
    Miri had never seen silk before, but she had read that it was the linder of cloth, and when the seamstress pulled a silk scarf from her bag, Miri could see why. It was heavy with brilliant colors swirled into a pattern of flowers yet shimmered secretly, like water under a crescent moon.
  • Death by Childbirth:
    • This and an earlier linder quarry accident did in Miri's Missing Mom.
    • Katar's mother as well.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Katar.
  • Dishing Out Dirt: In Palace of Stone, the girls manage to quarry-speech the palace linder into cracking and falling on an assassin.
  • Disney Villain Death: Dan.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending:
    • In Book One the girls fight off a Sadist Teacher, their own ignorance, and bandits to gain an education. Miri finds her place on Mount Eskel, and Britta gets to marry her childhood love.
    • Mount Eskel becomes independent and not subject to noblemen's whims. Britta and Steffan marry and change happens for the better.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Miri.
  • Everything's Better With Princesses: Not just for the Costume Porn and the chance of marrying a prince; the girls get an education that allows their parents to turn a profit during linder trading.
  • Et Tu, Brute?:
    • Britta has this reaction when Miri confesses that her school assignment that was anti-royal propaganda has been used to rouse the mobs and rebellion. Miri apologies and risks her life to protect Britta's.
    • Miri's own reaction when she realizes that Timon, her classmate gave said paper to the reactionaries and then Liana, a girl of Mount Eskel, led an assassin to Britta's hiding place.
    • Miri also reacts this way Timon reveals he and the other nobles hired an assassin to kill Britta, and to tell Miri to run. Peder also hears and nearly beats Timon to a pulp.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Averted. Muskets and pistols show up in Palace of Stone.
  • First Guy Wins: Miri gets Pedar, her childhood friend, instead of the prince she meets at the end.
  • Fisher Kingdom: Staying in Mount Eskel, particularly being exposed to it's linder, is what makes quarry-speech possible. It's also why the king's wing is built out of linder.
  • Fish out of Water: Britta doesn't adapt well to mountain life.
  • Food Porn: The descriptions of the royal food at the ball's banquet. Try not to drool while reading them.
  • Forgiven, but Not Forgotten: Miri is like this with Liana, who betrayed Britta to would-be assassins and revolutionaries. She forgives the latter for betrayal, but warns that if Liana does something like that again she will tell the latter's parents, and Liana will be confined to her home.
  • Girl Posse: Bena and Liana could be interpreted as this for Katar.
  • Happily Adopted: Britta is arguably adopted by Mount Eskel, finding a happier home there than in the lowland and later renounces her noble title.
  • Holding Hands: Both platonically and romantically.
  • I Am Spartacus: All the girls claim to be the prince's betrothed to stop the robbers from making off with just one of them.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Miri's linder hawk
  • Kangaroo Court: Miri says that a commoner can challenge a noble in court. She's then shown that in every case the noble has won, and the reasons given range from very flimsy to outright saying that the noble must be right because commoners are untrustworthy.
  • Kirk Summation: When confronting Liana over a betrayal, Miri shuts the latter's complaints that Britta knew what it was like to live in luxury and without hunger by saying that as academy princess, Steffan would have chosen Miri and Miri gives a blessing for the girl that Steffan really chose.
  • Large And In Charge: Applies to both Katar (tall and older than most of the other girls) and Dan (large and imposing).
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Britta's parents want their daughter to marry the prince and create a Batman Gambit to assure that it happens. Due to political pressures on the king in book two, he strips them of their noble title to make Britta a commoner and satisfy the populace.
    • Olana as a Sadist Teacher locks up students in the closet, at one point leaving Miri for nearly the entire night with a rat because she forgot about her. The bandit Dan proceeds to lock her and Knut in the closet when they take over the academy for several days.
  • The Load: For most of the book, Miri thinks she's this because her father has never allowed her to work in the linder quarry.
  • Meaningful Name: Miri is named after a mountain flower.
  • Missing Mom: Miri and Katar have no mother.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Peder nearly delivers one to Timon in Palace of Stone when the latter reveals that the rebellious nobles hired an assassin to kill Britta.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: At the academy, Britta pretends that she can't read, but later it's revealed that she can.
  • Overprotective Dad: Miri's dad is this, never letting her work in the quarry. She thinks it's because he hates her, but Doter reveals that the quarry killed Miri's mother.
  • Poor Communication Kills: If Doter had spoken up earlier, or Miri's dad were less close-mouthed, Miri would know why she has an Overprotective Dad.
  • Princesses Prefer Pink: The academy princess dress, while mostly silver, is accented with pink ribbons and rosebuds.
  • Promotion to Parent: Miri takes over her mother's duties after her death. She didn't have much choice anyway — her father refused to let her work in the quarry.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Nearby Rilamark fell prey to this, with the commoners executing each and every royal or noble they could get their hands on. Danland almost goes the same way.
  • Royal School
  • Sadist Teacher: Olana. She gets better.
  • Second Place Is for Winners: Miri doesn't get the prince, but this allows her to stay on her mountain home with her childhood friend Peder, where she feels she really belongs.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: All of the girls clean up nicely to meet Prince Steffan.
  • Shorter Means Smarter: Miri is the shortest girl in the class, but is the first to master the textbooks.
  • Smug Snake: Gummoth, the king's official. He's the one encouraging the king to overtax the nobles and commoners.
  • The Stoic: Prince Steffan.
  • Telepathy: Probably the closest way to describe quarry-speech. It sends out a message, which nudges any nearby memories or feelings.
  • Token Evil Teammate:
    • Liana becomes this, after she allows Britta to be betrayed.
    • Subverted with Katar after the first book; she is an Alpha Bitch but she is loyal to Mount Eskel. See below.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Katar after she becomes delegate.
  • True Companions: The girls of Mount Eskel eventually, after the school brings them together.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Britta is this in both books, first to her parents and then to the rebellious nobles that want to behead her to start a revolution. Even though Miri helps her, she's probably going to remain a pawn in the court.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Peder for Miri and Steffan for Britta.
  • Well Done Daughter Girl: Miri and Katar.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: It would appear that the story is set somewhere in Northern Europe, but the reader is never told exactly where.