Review posted August 19, 2012.
Bloomsbury, New York, August 2012. 321 pages.
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 Teen Fiction
This year, I keep changing in my hopes about the Newbery Medal:
First, I read Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, and hoped it would win the Medal. Next, I read The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, and hoped it would win the Medal. Then, I read Summer of the Gypsy Moths, by Sara Pennypacker, and hoped it would win the Medal. Finally (???), I read Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, and hoped it would win.
I think this will be my final choice, but I'm proving awfully fickle. I'm not sure I completely trust myself over Palace of Stone, because I like Shannon Hale's writing so much, and I've met Shannon and like her so much, and she sent me an Advance Reader Copy of this book with a tremendously nice inscription and signature, so I may well be biased. But I am going to have fun making a case for Palace of Stone for the win on the Heavy Medal mock Newbery blog, and maybe I can partially express here why I think this book is outstanding.
Palace of Stone is the sequel to Newbery-Honor-winning Princess Academy. Princess Academy on the surface seems like a trite idea: A bunch of mountain girls training at a school because one of them is going to be chosen by the prince to be his princess. But Shannon's books are definitely not trite. She paints a picture of Miri loving her mountain yet wanting to learn more, of Miri learning how to help the village get out of poverty, of Miri learning to be a friend, and of Miri figuring out the magic in the stone of the quarry on Mount Eskel..
In Palace of Stone there's also a rich mix of things going on. Miri is going to the capital city, along with some other girls from Mount Eskel, to help her friend prepare to be the princess. She gets to study at the school at the Queen's Castle while she is there. Peder is going at the same time, to be apprenticed to a wood carver.
But when Miri and her friends arrive, they learn that rebellion is brewing. And when the king's advisors tell him that now Mount Eskel is a province, they should be taxed, Miri can't help but have sympathy with the rebels. A kind fellow student introduces her to a Salon of plotters, and that handsome student seems to have a lot more time for Miri than Peder does.
In both books, I've been a tiny bit annoyed with how simplistic Miri's thinking is at times. But on reflection, she has lived on the mountain without any education at all except the one year in the princess academy. It would be silly for her to use sophisticated concepts.
And Shannon Hale weaves sophisticated concepts into the setting of this book. Why does a king rule? What right does he have to tax his people? How does government work? There are also implications about the Palace of Stone. Only the king's quarters are made from linder blocks from Mount Eskel, and common people are not allowed to go there at all.
Like before, Miri still characteristically pulls big ideas from books:
Timon had said first Asland; the rest of Danland would follow, and then all the world. His promises felt as real as paper in her hands, just awaiting the ink strokes of action.
But Miri was not the only one who took sick that winter, and revolution proved no match for a head cold. Salons emptied, as did the Queen's Castle. Now Miri found time to haunt the palace library.
Master Filippus had said they needed to study History to understand what had worked in the past. Miri found the Librarian's Book and started to read all she could on tributes, hoping for clues on how to defend Mount Eskel. There were laws that limited how much tribute a noble could take from a commoner, but as Miri had seen from the Grievance Official's ledger, if they took more anyway, no one could stop them. And no laws limited the king.
This is a sequel to Princess Academy. I think you'll enjoy it more if you read the first book first, though I'm sure you can understand what's going on even without that. But as with all of Shannon's books, why would you want to? In fact, I used this as a delightful excuse to reread Princess Academy. I enjoy her books more every time I read them, and now here's one more to return to again and again.