Review of Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

SFFaudio Review

Princess Academy by Shannon HalePrincess Academy
By Shannon Hale; Read by a Full Cast
8 CDs – 8 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 1933322772
Themes: / Fantasy / Young Adult / Magic / Culture / Royalty / Boarding School / Economics /

Earlier this year (2007), the unabridged Full Cast Audio production of Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl won an Audie Award for Achievement in Production. Now, Full Cast Audio offers another Shannon Hale novel in a production that may be even better. Princess Academy is a wonderful YA fantasy novel that is a sure bet to enthrall readers (and now listeners) of all ages.

It’s become cliché to say that this or that YA novel has wider appeal than their target audience but Shannon Hale’s, without question, fit that description. They are appropriate for young listeners (the box says “ages 10 to adult”) and at the same time are smart enough and, most importantly, true enough for older readers. This novel is entertaining, but the characters live realistic and difficult lives. Through them, Hale helps us understand that there’s nothing more important in life than love.

The main character of the novel is Miri, a fourteen year old girl who is small for her age. She lives in a mountain village, where most of the residents work in the nearby quarry. One day, a herald arrives and announces that priests have determined that the bride of the prince, who lives in a bustling city, will come from the tiny region that Miri lives in, and that all girls 14-18 years old must report to an academy so that they might be educated for the prince’s visit one year later, when he will make his choice. The girls are collected and brought to the academy, some of them willingly, and some of them not.

Miri is not happy about it, and her feelings of inadequacy due to the overprotective way her father treats her are compounded and confused by the fact that he does not put up much of a fight to keep her from going. But once she gets to the academy and learns to read, she realizes the benefit and takes full advantage of the experience, which is made all the more difficult by a very hard headmistress. Throughout the story, Miri learns of a magic called “quarryspeak”, which is a method of psychic communication that seems to work only between quarry workers while in the quarry. She finds that there’s more to it than that, and she finds out there’s a lot more to everything else, too.

The Full Cast Audio team has mastered their unique method of unabridged audiobook production. There is no other company that produces audiobooks the way they do it, and every book they come out with is technically better than the last. Actors are used for all the dialogue, and a narrator reads everything else. An 8 hour production like this would lose its appeal if any of the roles were cast with questionable talent, but that’s not a problem here. Particularly good were Jo D’Aloisio, the young girl who played Miri, Laura Credidio, the narrator, and Alice Morigi, who played Tutor Olana, the icy headmistress. The entire cast deserves kudos. Skilled acting and directing along with perfect music and editing make this production a wondrous experience. Simply excellent, all around.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Scott D.

Reviews Editor, SFFaudio

2 thoughts to “Review of Princess Academy by Shannon Hale”

  1. I’ve found the SFF Audio Essentials a good starting point for choosing audiobooks, but one can’t expect to agree on everything. While I like a lot of youth fiction, I was not especially impressed by Princess Academy. However, a lot of young girls love it, if one can believe the iTunes store reviews. So, I think whether Princess Academy will be right for you will depend on individual taste.

    Now, as to the story, it is an adequate tale of coming of age, and a carefully empowered tale of girls learning to be independent and self sufficient, of wanting to marry a prince, or not, and why. The story walks a line between fairy tale romance, the harsh realities of peasant life and a certain amount of feminist empowerment. In that, I think it does a fair job. The characters are fairly well drawn and the plot is reasonably paced. But there are a number of distractions, no the least of which is that Hale is a god awful poet/song writer, and the poems / songs are featured prominently at the start of each chapter and in the story itself. Full Cast Audio does the best they can with them, but the terrible doggerel leaves a visceral bruising mark on the story, one that makes me cringe whenever I hear the voice of the person who also had to sing the opening “songs.” Shudder…

    This is not Full Cast Audio’s best book, IMO. They deserve kudos for making the kids sound like kids. Laura Credidio is very credible as Miri, for instance. But I think that Full Cast Audio’s production of Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel, worked much better.

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