Palace of Stone: Princess Academy, Book 2

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Palace of Stone: Princess Academy, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Exciting, complex sequel a mix of politics and compassion.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about resourcefulness; class consciousness; the power of education; the value of money; the importance of understanding politics; compassion for those less fortunate; elegant problem-solving; and owning your mistakes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Miri is a self-possessed, extremely conscientious young woman who works to do the right thing, strives to better herself, and behaves ethically. Characters with less stellar motives are often shown with complexity and compassion -- a cruel king was once abused; an unhappy girl has limited options to better herself; the angry mob is actually starving -- while those with too-good-to-be-true motives are often revealed to have shortcomings. Miri strives to solve problems to make things better for everyone.

Violence

Suspense and violence throughout, but it's not graphically described. A man is shot but survives; a man is crushed by stone; multiple assassination attempts are unsuccessful. There are threats of violence; descriptions of abuse such as being locked in closets; discussion of a mother having multiple miscarriages. A group is held hostage with intimidation and force; a man is knocked in the head by the butt of a gun; a woman's husband is said to have been executed for treason; there's mention that a queen was taken into the streets and had her head chopped off.

Sex

A boy and girl kiss; a boy kisses a girl's hand twice; descriptions of romantic longing.

 

Language

Name-calling: "stupid," "dolt."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shannon Hale's Palace of Stone is the exciting sequel to Princess Academy. It's a beautifully woven story about the power of education, activism, compassion, and the political awakening of Miri and her mountain friends, who learn to think for themselves, grapple with ethics, and use their power to improve the lot of their fellow man. It features some intense but not graphic violence: A man is shot but survives; a man is crushed by stone; there are multiple assassination attempts and some descriptions of executions. There are multiple stories of hunger and the loss of parents or siblings, and the plot often focuses on a poor, starving population ready to revolt. 

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What's the story?

Miri and her friends are guests at the palace to see Lady Britta finally married off. While they're there, she will attend the Queen's Castle for scholarly pursuits, while boyfriend Peder hones his carving skills as an apprentice. But just as Miri makes exciting new friends and joins in on wedding festivities, she learns the "shoeless" masses, angry over high taxes and forced payments to the king, have planned a revolt, and her new peers at school are part of the plan. As Miri becomes enchanted with city life and learning, she also must reconcile her compassion for the commoners, her loyalty to her noble friends, new troubling questions of ethics, and her longing for family, all of which complicate the biggest question of all: Can you ever really go home again?

Is it any good?

Shannon Hale's PALACE OF STONE is a masterfully complex tale that subverts everything you expect from a princess adventure. Miri is a complicated, headstrong heroine, and, in every new experience she faces, Hale excels at giving readers unexpected depth. Education is not only a one-way ticket out of sheltered life on the mountain for Miri, it's a chance to study and learn about the world, help other people, light up her brain, and ultimately make things better for her community. But in the wrong hands, knowledge can be dangerous, especially if it's used by the overzealous to misrepresent the truth in the name of a good cause.

Hale teaches readers to think through all possible points of view, to view everyone compassionately, and to reconcile problems more elegantly -- to push beyond seeing issues as simply black and white. This is a terrific coming-of-age story for boys or girls that will entertain them without insulting their intelligence and make learning look (nearly) more seductive than romance. There are some intense scenes, some assassination attempts, and threats of violence. There's also a lot of hardship and loss. But it's not treated gratuitously, and the focus here is on how young people become aware of the world and develop compassion for others. Miri and her friends grapple with romance, friendship, and grave injustices, all woven together so gracefully you'll hardly notice you've just been given a pretty sophisticated lesson in politics, ethics, and class struggle.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the central ethical question in Palace of Stone: whether to save a prisoner or a painting in a fire. Which would you choose, and why?

  • Is education powerful or dangerous? Can it be both? Explain.

  • Is it ever a bad idea to tell the truth? Why, or why not? Has telling the truth ever caused more harm than good in your experience? If so, how?

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