I loved Princess Academy. I was thrilled that there would be a sequel. I hesitated when I saw the title--Princess Academy: Palace of Stone. First Book: Second Book is not a winning combination. It's the title styling of a prefab series. I read it anyway.
Its most redeeming characteristic is that it's a fast read--only took a couple of days. Miri, our heroine from the first book, comes to the city to spend a year and attend the wedding of her friend the princess, as well as to attend the university. It turns out there is unrest fomenting among the populace. Miri to the rescue! There are so many things wrong with this, I barely know where to start.
1) Why does this problem exist in the first place? How can a man so supremely incompetent put his own clothes on in the morning, never mind be king? When there is a mob outside the palace shouting about their starving children, it's one thing to say "screw them, I want my diamond-crusted handkerchiefs," but totally another to say "who's starving? what are you talking about?"
2) What does he need all that money for, anyway? There is no Sun King decadence going on here. He's not doing any kinging!
3) Even if the king IS exactly this intellectually subpar, I will not
believe that NO ONE AT ALL around him is any smarter. None of his
advisers; his son (Miri's friend!), none of the nobles have ever said,
"Hey, you know what? Starving peasants!"
4) (Or 3b, depending how you look at it) Why is Miri--lowly mountain girl--responsible for all this stuff? I can see how she gets caught up as a figurehead and swept up in the movement in her naivete--that's quite believable. But there's no way that she would actually have any say in events, never mind be able to undo them. (I'm getting vaguer to avoid serious spoilers, but please don't worry about being spoiled and just skip the book.)
5) This one is worst, I think, because this is a kids' book, and so political reality is not as important as emotional reality. So here's my least favorite thing about this book--Miri is a completely limp, passive, wet dishrag of a character. She does NOTHING in this book. She waits for things to happen, and hopes that people will tell her what to do, and paces around watching them go on. When she suspects something's wrong--all kinds of somethings, at all kinds of stages in the book--she never goes to the people involved and asks questions, tries to persuade, or makes an effort to change things. She's a hand-wringing milksop.
6) At the end, when she does take action, it's because some heretofore unprecedented magical powers come into being. There's a foundation of vaguely magical stuff set up in the first book and the beginning of the second, but it's got clear rules and limitations that cease to have any meaning when they're needed, deus-ex-machina-style, to lift Miri out of her passivity.
I'm quite depressed by this book. Really, the nonsense of the political situation is only vaguely irritating--it's not a YA book, it's a kids' book, really, so the oversimplified nice-but-out-of-touch king with bad advisers, the girl who's used by politicians, a nation that can be healed because almost everyone has good intentions. That's something you take in stride when you read books outside your reading level.
But guys, the amount of time in this book spent waiting for rescue is just exhausting. The hand wringing, the not talking to each other--it's somewhere between boring and insufferable. Blah!