Bandits, miner's daughters, a boring prince and a sentient mountain

Princess Academy - Shannon Hale

This is the type of excellent children's publishing that I craved as a preteen/young teen. It reads sort of like a middle grade, more accessible to younger readers than a lot of the YA MA books these days.


This wasn't at all what I was expecting from the title and cover; I thought it would be fluffy romantic school stories, but it's the type of smart, political historical fiction-inspired fantasy that I loved well before paranormal romance and urban fantasy took over YA.


Miri is a 14-year-old miner's daughter who mourns the fact that she's too small and can't go help out in the mines. Fantasy!politics decree that all daughters in the village between 12-18 or so must be removed to a training camp to be prepared as a potential princess pool. Handwavy explanation aside, it's a chance for Miri to start to see a wider world and her own home's context within that. She uses what she learns about economics, politics, reading and math to negotiate a better situation for her village, protect her classmates, understand her family, and fight oppression. There's some very mild romance (again, suitable for MG/young teen readers), but the story is more about personal growth, community and friendship, and helping others through learning and sharing knowledge. Beautiful, meaningful, engaging and fast-paced.