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Literature / Princess Academy

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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.

The first book was released in 2005. The second book, Palace of Stone, came in 2012. The third book, The Forgotten Sisters, came in 2015.

The novels contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Britta's father smoked out his daughter after planning to use her as an Unwitting Pawn to marry Prince Steffan.
  • Alpha Bitch: Katar appears to be one at first, although she gets better in the sequels. She is rude, cold, and arrogant, picks on Miri constantly, has a Girl Posse in Bena and Liana, and is one of the smartest students at the academy. But it turns out that because of her cold attitude, the other girls actually don't like or respect her at all. During the final exam, when everyone has to answer a question from the teacher in turn, the girls secretly give each other answers using quarry-speech, but when Katar can't answer her question, nobody gives her any help except Miri. Indeed, later that night, the other girls vote for Miri to be academy princess instead of her, because of how she helped them in the exam.
    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. So much that in The Forgotten Sisters the queen fires him for overstaying his position, taking her girls away from her, and bullying Miri.
  • The Baby of the Bunch: Gerti is the youngest of the girls at the Mount Eskel princess academy, only twelve years old. Ironically, she is the oldest of four sisters at home.
  • Barefoot Poverty: The poor are literally called the shoeless. Sus, Felissa and Astrid also don't wear shoes.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Katar gets doses of this.
    • So does Britta's father.
    • The chief delegate and Storan Commander Mongus at the end of The Forgotten Sisters.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • Britta's father made his daughter 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.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Downplayed. Britta is generally nice to everyone anyway, but she has a special soft spot for Miri because Miri was the first person to treat her kindly when all the others were shunning her.
  • 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.
  • Broken Bird: Queen Sabet after she was forced to give up three of her children. She takes a while to grow out of this.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Discussed. The girls realize that Olana's Sadist Teacher methods are being used on the future queen of the land, and whoever becomes queen could use her power to get Olana Reassigned to Antarctica. They use this to bargain with Olana about getting fairer treatment.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: To motivate the girls to study harder, Olana shows them an elaborate painting of a beautiful house with a garden full of flowers, and says the house will be given to the family of the girl chosen as princess. After Steffan chooses Britta as his bride, Olana admits privately to Miri that the house doesn't actually exist and was used as a Motivational Lie (not that it matters much, since Britta's family is already rich and wouldn't need another house anyway). She gives the painting to Miri and says she earned it for being academy princess.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Miri, Astrid, Felissa and Sus do this to King Bjorn, Queen Sabet and the chief delegate who ordered that the girls be raised in a swamp, with no one to take care of them after their adoptive mother died. Miri's so furious that she smashes a vase, and Astrid refuses to forgive the queen for what she did. Steffan makes his view on the matter clear by stepping down and letting his twin sister Astrid rule.
  • The Cameo: Olana is absent for the second book, but appears in the last scene of the third and final book, as the teacher of the prince academy to determine which of the noble Danlander boys will be Astrid's future husband.
  • Chandler's Law: Two thirds of the way into the first book the plot seems to be dead-ending into anticlimax: the academic year has finished, the prince has shown up and looks to be a dud, and has even left without choosing a princess, leaving the princess candidates (and the audience) with the prospect of another pointless winter in the academy. Fortunately the book is saved when a pack of bandits attacks without warning and captures all the girls!
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Several of the lessons that Miri and the other girls learn at the academy end up coming into play in later scenes.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The linder hawk that Peder gives to Miri which helps her to defeat Dan. See Improbable Weapon User below.
    • The letters that the traders never delivered between Miri, Britta, Peder and Katar. Stora soldiers received the letters for coin and learned that there were three girls that were princesses hiding in the South.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • The bandits, when they are first introduced, come across as legendary figures from the past who, we are assured, will never return and whose presence in the story seems to be set dressing rather than plot-relevant. Then they show up at the end to be the plot's main antagonists.
    • Timon from Palace of Stone. Peder allies with him in an Enemy Mine to rescue Miri and the princesses in The Forgotten Sisters.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: Astrid, Felissa and Sus use their knowledge of Storan history to obtain an audience with the new king and shut up his commanding officers.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Quarry-speaking proves to be a vital skill while Miri is at school, as she uses it to help the other girls and they, in turn, use it to help each other: to cheat on their final exam and to escape the bandits.
    • Literacy, which Miri was learning as a means of snagging the prince, doesn't work for that purpose, but does enable her to improve the economic bargaining position of her people.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Miri and Peder were close as children, and Miri already has feelings for him before going to the school and eventually ending up with him. Britta is also revealed to have been Prince Steffan's childhood playmate years before, which is why he chooses her as his princess.
  • City Mouse: Britta. The other girls use this as an excuse to shun her in the beginning of the first book.
  • 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.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: The chief delegate wants to sell the Mount Eskel mines to traders so as to fill up the royal treasury.
  • Damsel out of Distress: When Dan takes Miri hostage at the end of the first book, she forces him to let go of her by stabbing him in the hand with the linder hawk that Peder gave her. Because they're hanging off of a cliff when this happens, he falls to his death.
  • Death by Childbirth:
    • This and an earlier linder quarry accident did in Miri's Missing Mom.
    • Katar's mother as well.
    • Esa is beyond furious when she discovers that the lowlanders have the medical knowledge to prevent this and never even thought to share it.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Katar. By The Forgotten Sisters she and Miri are True Companions.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Downplayed a bit, as missing a meal is actually considered a moderate punishment in Princess Academy. When the girls negotiate for better conditions, one of their concessions is that a missed meal can be used as punishment when necessary (as opposed to harsher measures, like being hit or locked in a closet, which will not be allowed under the terms of the agreement).
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • When negotiating with their tutor Olana for better treatment, one of the things the academy students ask for is the dismissal of the Aslandian soldiers, since they only seem to be there to intimidate the students into behaving. Olana asks what will happen if bandits come to the mountain village, so Katar points out that even if they do come, there is nothing valuable in the village except linder blocks too heavy to steal, and the mountain men are strong enough to fend them off. However, none of them realize that bandits could still attack the academy itself, which is a good distance from the village—and they do, when they hear that one of the students will be chosen as the future princess of Danland. They break into the academy unhindered and capture all the girls, intending to find the one chosen as princess and hold her for ransom.
    • In The Forgotten Sisters, Miri tries to make a strong impression on the girls by imitating her Sadist Teacher Olana. She forgets that this impression didn't work on her or her friends, and the "princesses" aren't that impressed, especially when Miri faints from dehydration.
  • 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 falls to his death from a cliff after Miri stabs him in the hand with a linder hawk.
  • 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 by The Forgotten Sisters. Britta and Steffan marry and change happens for the better with Steffan's sister Astrid becoming the crown princess and Britta becoming the new ambassador.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Miri.
  • Enemy Mine: Peder and Timon in The Forgotten Sisters to save Miri. In the previous book they were romantic rivals for Miri's hand.
  • 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.
  • Go-Getter Girl: Katar's motivation for her hard work at the academy.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The bandit Dogface in The Forgotten Sisters.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Averted. Muskets and pistols show up in Palace of Stone.
  • First Guy Wins: Miri gets Peder, her childhood friend, instead of the prince she meets at the end, and Timon later on.
  • 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. Miri also in the swamp.
  • Flower Motif: In-universe, Miri is named after a mountain flower that her people make wishes on by plucking the petals and letting them fall. It fits perfectly with Miri's desire to become someone her father could be proud of.
  • Food Porn: The descriptions of the royal food at the ball's banquet.
    They ate fresh roast with bread-and-vinegar pudding, pickled beetroot, lamb's head and boar's head, fresh fish breaded in wheat flour and fried with yellow squash, and heaps of soft, steamy bread...sticky honey cakes, syrupy custards, and fruit dusted with sugar so light that it melted on Miri's tongue before she was scarcely aware of the flavor.
  • 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.
  • Here We Go Again!: The third and final book ends with Olana overseeing the prince academy to determine which of the noble boys will become Princess Astrid's betrothed.
  • 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.
  • Karmic Death: Jeffers, the man who stole the girls' allowance and letters, suffers this when he tries to kill Miri. Peder happened to be holding a gun.
  • 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 Miri, being the academy princess, would have been the obvious choice for Steffan, and she gave her blessing to the marriage.
  • 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 chief delegate was the one who mandated that Mount Eskel be sold to traders, and ordered Astrid, Felissa and Sus to be sent into exile as babies to avoid another potential civil war. When he tries to bully Miri and exile her from the palace, Queen Sabet strips him of his position and orders him to leave.
  • 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.
  • Maternal Death? Blame the Child!: Miri worries that her father believes this. He doesn’t, he’s just stoic and grieving his wife’s death, but loves Miri dearly.
    • Played straight with Katar. Her father blames her for her mother’s death and she believes that he also wishes that she were a son or at least a different kind of girl.
  • Meaningful Name: Miri is named after a mountain flower.
  • Minor Living Alone: The Forgotten Sisters runs on this. The three princesses Astrid, Sus and Felissa, are actually King Bjorn's and Queen Sabet's children, sent to live in the swamp to avoid a repeat of history with royals Katrina and Klas and the heir Steffan. Queen Sabet was broken about not fighting to keep her girls, which she considers My Greatest Failure, and the girls ended up in poverty after their adoptive mother Elin died with traders stealing their letters and a villageman stealing their allowance. To say that Miri and the girls are angry when they learn the truth is an Understatement.
  • Missing Mom:
    • Miri and Katar's mothers both died when they were babies.
    • Astrid, Felissa, and Sus's mom Elin died of summer fever when Sus was still a baby. Subverted. She wasn't really their mother, but she did die and their real mother was not allowed to even acknowledge their existence, let alone meet and care for them. The three sister and Miri bond over their loss of mothers and finally allows Miri to come into their home without a formal request.
  • 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.
  • Poor Communication Kills: If Doter had spoken up earlier, or Miri's dad were less close-mouthed, Miri would know why her dad is so overprotective.
  • Princesses Prefer Pink: The academy princess dress, while mostly silver, is accented with pink ribbons and rosebuds.
  • Promotion to Parent: Of a sort. Miri takes over her mother's duties around the house as soon as she's old enough, but she's not actually parenting anyone as she's the youngest. (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: The princess academy, wherever it's set up.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Invoked by Miri in Palace of Stone. During a tense confrontation between the commoners and nobles, Britta is the only one to notice that a shoeless boy is about to be run over, and loses her own shoes saving him. This act shocks the rebellion, and Miri uses the moment to pick up her shoes and show the crowd that Britta is now shoeless like them. After Britta becomes a commoner herself and becomes an advocate for the shoeless, the incident takes on a sort of folkish status.
  • Sadist Teacher: Olana deliberately invokes this so the girls will study harder just to spite her. It works more or less, but it also inspires them to run away from the academy.
  • 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.
  • Soup of Poverty: Even though the villagers of Mount Eskel are the only miners of linder in the world, they remain poor because the lowlander traders take advantage of their lack of knowledge to not pay them fairly for their linder. Sometimes they have to water down their gruel to stretch it thin enough to get through the winter. They have a little song about it that goes, "Water in the porridge / And more salt in the gruel / Doesn't make a belly / Full, not a bellyful."
  • 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 acts like an Alpha Bitch, but plays by the rules and is protective of the younger girls. See below.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Katar after she becomes Mount Eskel's 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.
    • Miri was supposed to be one for the chief delegate, since the only reason she went to the swamp was to receive Mount Eskel's deed to the mine and the village. He not only set her up to fail but was going to sell the deeds while she was away. He didn't anticipate that Miri would not only succeed, but also stopped a war and saved his king and queen.
  • Well Done Daughter Girl: All Miri wants is to work in the quarry, even though her father won't let her because she's so small, and make him proud of her. He already is.
  • What You Are in the Dark: During the final exam, when all the girls are helping each other via quarry speak, Katar trips up on a particularly difficult question. Despite her dislike for Katar (and knowing that Katar is in no danger of failing), Miri decides that it's wrong to selectively exclude one person from the help they'd been giving everyone else and helps her.
  • 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. The use of names like Britta and Bjork suggest that Danland is a fantastical equivalent to Sweden.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Downplayed. Mount Eskel knows that linder has some value and makes its economy mining it, but it isn't until Miri comes across it in an economic text that she realizes that it's far more valuable than they thought and the merchants have been fleecing them for years. When trading season comes, the village makes clear to the merchants that they won't be taken advantage of anymore and that their only choices are to pay them fairly or lose the sales entirely.
  • Written by the Winners: Discussed in The Forgotten Sisters. Miri relates an event in Danlandian history where a pair of royal twins, Katarina and Klas, were born. Before Klas could be crowned king, Katarina forced the royal physician to declare that she was actually the firstborn and thus the rightful queen, sparking a civil war that she eventually lost. Miri asks her students what would be written in the history book if Katarina had won and her children had inherited the throne. Astrid suggests a version of events in which the physician, after years of being threatened into silence, bravely revealed that Princess Katarina was the firstborn, but the evil, greedy Prince Klas started a civil war in an attempt to murder his sister.