Miri, her father - who she calls Pa - and her sister Marda live on Mount Eskel, where the men and some of the women mine for linder, a precious rock the villagers often trade for goods from the Lowlands. Miri, named after a flower, has always wanted to work in the quarry and harvest the linder, but her father won't let her. Miri wonders what she can do to help the mountain, but there seems to be nothing she can do.
Then the Chief Delegate of the kingdom of Danland calls upon Mount Eskel, where he states that the priests of the creater god have declared that the prince's bride shall be found on Mount Eskel. All the girls younger than the prince must go to the Princess Academy, where they will be trained in the lowlander ways. The villagers protest to this at first, but after being threatened, they allow their daughters to go on the journey and be trained.
But life at the Princess Academy is not what Miri - or the other girls - expect. Tutor Olana is cruel and unfair, and some the girls have no idea why they're here in the first place. Who wants to marry a man they don't know? And then there's Katar and her friends, whose competition makes everyone cringe. Miri, after taking a book and teaching herself to read fluently, becomes more competition that she and the other girls would expect - and she begins to wonder what life in a palace in the Lowlands would be like. Would it be enough to finally make some change on Mount Eskel? Could she help the poor mountain and widen trade? And what about Peder, her old friend back on the mountain? What will he think of all this? Time is running short, and the Academy Princess must be named. Can Miri gain the title and catch the prince's eye? But still, the neverending thought: Does she even want to?
This book turned out to be something completely different than I'd expected. Different characters, different story, WAY different feel. But I liked it. It's cute, sweet, and fun. It has adventure, love, friendship, and culture in it. I was, at first, unsure about Miri's character and what her purpose was. She isn't the most consistent character, but she's a strong one, and you love her to death throughout the book. I thought there was a bit lacking when the girls first went to the Academy - what were they there for, really? What were they learning? How were they reacting to it? It seemed a bit bland. (I'm not a big fan of the names either...they were a bit weird. But that's ok...I don't have to like everyone's names. Haha!)
But then the story really begins to hit, and it's awesome. Miri becomes more real. The competition for the title of Academy Princess becomes heated, Olana is hated, and you begin to really become immersed in the culture of the story. That was my favorite part of it. Shannon Hale obviously put a lot of thought into the country and who the people were and where they lived and why they lived like they did. It was as though it could be a real place, not just some fairy-tale land.
I really liked the idea of quarry-speech and thought it was original and fascinating. I wish I could do what they did! (You'll have to read the book to know what I mean...)
My favorite character is a tie between Peder and Britta. Peder for his sweetness, sensitivity, and strength. Britta for her kindness to Miri, her fascination with the mountain and its ways and culture and people, and just who she was throughout the story.
One word I would use to describe this story would be... Shaped. Despite what I felt was a rocky beginning, the middle and end were like a perfectly shaped diamond, exactly how you would want it to be. It was three dimensional, it had originality, and it shone. I literally squealed and giggled when I read the last chapter or so...it was happy and sweet and just wonderful.
Definitely recommended to those who love a good, original fairytale. :)