Fairy Tale, Fiction, Young Adult

Princess Academy

Princess Academy book cover
Image from The Book Smugglers

Title:  Princess Academy

Author:  Shannon Hale

Genre:  Fairy Tale

High on the slopes of rocky Mount Eskel, Miri’s village pounds a living from the mountain’s stone.  But then word comes that the next princess will be chosen from her village.  All eligible girls are forced to attend a makeshift academy to prepare for royal life.  There, Miri confronts not only a cruel teacher and bitter competition among the girls, but her own conflicting desires to be chosen.  But when danger comes to the academy, it is up to Miri to save her classmates and the future of their village.

Princess Academy is one of those books that I had planned on reading, but never really got around to it.  But after I finished Princess Ben, I was looking for something else with a fairy-tale feel, and I finally decided to pick this one up.

I really enjoyed Miri.  Even though she wasn’t physically strong, she was strong mentally – a quick learner and quick to figure out how things work, even when there’s no one to teach her.  And while she wasn’t exactly brave or bold, I liked her in a sweet-little-sister kind of way.

Olana, the instructor, was such a jerk at the beginning.  She was ridiculously unfair and way, way too hard on the girls.  I totally hated her.  And then…no spoilers, but I didn’t hate her quite so much anymore.

There’s so many other characters I could mention – Britta, Miri’s new friend, Katar, Miri’s main rival among the girls, little Gerti who is occasionally important….  Every girl at the academy had an important part to play somewhere, and each had her own distinct personality, which just added to the awesomeness of the story.  I feel like if I write a paragraph about any of the other girls, I’d be shorting the ones I didn’t mention.

The whole watching-girls-learn-about-being-royalty thing had the potential to be really boring, but between butting heads with Olana and competing among themselves, it wasn’t.  And even though I can’t say I didn’t see what was coming as far as the “danger to the academy” part and Miri’s romantic interests, I still enjoyed the story.  And who the prince chose was something I did not guess.

This book was exactly what I was looking for – lighthearted and fun, not really a fairy tale or involving real princesses but with a very fairy-tale feel.  And even though Princess Academy wrapped up in such a way that I’m not sure what the sequel, Palace of Stone, will be about, I might just read it anyway.  Because I definitely wouldn’t object to spending another book with these characters.

Fairy Tale

Princess Ben

Princess Ben book cover
Image from Eloise Reads

Title:  Princess Ben

Author:  Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Genre:  Fairy Tale

When her parents are assassinated, Princess Benevolence ends up under the thumb of the conniving Queen Sophia.  As the late king’s niece, Ben is now the official heir to the throne, but learning princessly manners is the last thing she wants to do.  Starved and miserable, locked in the castle’s highest tower, Ben stumbles upon an enchanted room.  So begins her secret education in the magical arts – mastering an obstinate flying broomstick, furtively emptying the castle pantries, setting her hair on fire….  But Ben’s private adventures are soon overwhelmed by a mortal threat by the neighboring kingdom.  Will a pudgy, un-princess-like princess be able to save her kingdom?

I read Princess Ben multiple times when I was thirteen-ish.  I forget what originally made me pick it up, but I remember loving the originalness of the adventure.  When I saw it on the library shelf the other day, I decided to pick it up and see if it was as great as I remembered.

I loved Ben.  She’s not a typical princess – fat, obsessed with food, petulant and childish and very, very stubborn.  But somehow, I managed to overlook her shortcomings at the beginning of the story.  I thought I liked her in the beginning, but she was absolutely awesome by the end.

Queen Sophia was an antagonist who wasn’t all bad.  She and Ben butted heads a lot, but half of that was because they were both strong-willed women, and their agendas didn’t agree.  Sophia was a good queen, even if she didn’t do very well handling a teenaged girl.

Between Ben’s shortcomings as a princess, her education in magic, the problems with Drachensbett (the neighboring country), the threat of marriage, and Ben not getting along with Queen Sophia, the whole plot is delightfully tangled.  The magic gets Ben into all sorts of problems, the princes-trying-to-win-the-princess’s-hand plot is nothing like you’d expect, and overall, completely amazing.  (I apologize if I’m being vague here, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers.)

Even though this book isn’t exactly short, it’s hard to do a long review of it – at least not without spoilers.  It’s separated into four distinct parts, each of which has what seems like its own separate plot, and I’m trying my best not to spoil anything.  Because Princess Ben is too good to ruin for you.

Suffice it to say that this is one childhood favorite I still love.

Fairy Tale

Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy book cover
Image from smallreview.blogspot.com

Title:  Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1)

Author:  Robin LaFevers

Genre:  Fantasy

Escaping from an abusive arranged marriage, Ismae finds sancuary at the convent of St. Mortain.  There she learns that Mortain himself has blessed her with deadly gifts – and a violent destiny.  As a handmaiden to Death, Ismae’s assignment is to infiltrate the high court of Brittany and protect the duchess, posing as mistress to Gavriel Duval, who has fallen under the convent’s suspicion.  Once there, she finds herself woefully unprepared – not only for the deadly games of love and courtly intrigue, but for the impossible choices she must make.

This book intrigued me for two reasons.  One was the cover, which, although it was a standard girl-in-a-pretty-dress cover, also included a crossbow.  The other was the premise of assassin nuns.

Ismae, the main character, was one of those assassin nuns.  And as far as characters go, she was a fun one.  I loved watching the deadly girl try and navigate courtly life – especially when her first instinct when she gets upset is to stick a knife in whoever upset her.  She was exactly the kind of stubborn, kick-butt heroine I love to read about.

Strangely enough, I feel like I didn’t get to know Duval at all.  Sure, he loved his sister, was a good strategist, could be stubborn and could also be sweet, but I didn’t feel like I really knew him.  I don’t know if this will be developed in subsequent books or if I’m just crazy, but I got the feeling he was hiding something.

This book was the perfect blend of courtly intrigue and assassin-related stuff.  I found the court especially fascinating – it was like they were acting out roles, and everybody not only knew other people were acting but knew other people knew they were acting, yet they still acted!  I found it astounding, and yet riveting.

One thing I definitely have to give this book kudos for is plot.  There were a bunch of different plots and subplots (multiple threats to the duchess, Ismae’s service to Mortain, romance between Ismae and Duval), but they were all tied together so tightly that I don’t think you could remove one of them without tearing the whole story apart.

About the only thing I had a problem with in the book was one of the plotlines.  Something didn’t sit quite right with me about the romance.  It could be because of my impressions of Duval, or because I don’t thing a killer like Ismae could fall in love so quickly, but it just felt a little…off to me.

Other than that one minor detail, though, I really enjoyed the story.  It doesn’t make my top favorite books list, but I’ll definitely be reading the second book in the series, Dark Triumph, when it comes out sometime in the spring.