fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale YA fantasy audiobook reviewsThe Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale

I just adore Shannon Hale’s PRINCESS ACADEMY books for young readers. The Forgotten Sisters, released earlier this week, is the third and final installment. This review will contain spoilers for the previous books.

In book one, Princess Academy, the first school was built in Mount Eskel, an uneducated rural mining community. The purpose of the school was to educate marriageable young ladies so that the prince of their realm could choose a fitting bride. One of the potential princess wannabees, Miri, wasn’t chosen to be princess, but she learned subjects and skills that she used to better Mount Eskel’s economic situation. In the second book, Palace of Stone, Miri goes to the capital city for more education and ends up quelling a revolution.

Now, in The Forgotten Sisters, Miri is about to return to Mount Eskel with Peder, the boy she loves, when the king and queen decide instead to send her to Lesser Alva, a backwater province, so she can set up a new Princess Academy. A neighboring kingdom has become hostile and King Bjorn hopes to appease him with a marriage alliance. There are three royal cousins living in Lesser Alva and it’s Miri’s job to get them educated and up to snuff so the foreign king can pick one. Miri bristles at the idea of an arranged marriage, but she negotiates with King Bjorn and gets a deal that satisfies her moral standards and will greatly benefit Mount Eskel.

When Miri arrives in Lesser Alva, the situation is much worse than she anticipated. First of all, the place is literally a swamp. She finds her charges — Astrid, Felissa, and Sus — surviving off the land without any parental guidance. Even if they wanted to be educated, which they don’t, they have no time for it because they spend so much time just trying to keep themselves fed. As Miri tries to help them fix their situation and do the job she was sent to do, she discovers that her communication with her friends in the capital and Mount Eskel has been cut off. While investigating, she uncovers ugly secrets and plots and realizes that her life is in danger.

As usual, Hale takes the unexpected route and delivers a children’s story that turns the whole “princess” thing on its head. Even though I knew Hale does this, I was still surprised by the originality of this story. The Forgotten Sisters is entertaining, adventurous, funny, touching, and optimistic (she even manages to redeem a villain from one of the previous stories). But what Hale does best is to illustrate (without getting teachy) the many benefits of a broad education and she shows that the act of learning is actually exciting and pleasurable. Miri’s charges discover that the more they know, the easier they can solve problems and better their lives. There were a few places where I had to suspend disbelief — especially toward the end of the story, which felt a little trite and rushed — but that didn’t bother me too much.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHale’s writing style is always delightful. Each chapter of The Forgotten Sisters begins with some juicy little tidbit such as a silly song or sweet poem:

A honey bee, a funny flea, a pitter patter sunny sea
A breezy snow, a wheezy crow, a bitter batter easy dough
A teary hymn, a weary limb, a titter tatter cheery swim
A cozy yawn, a nosy fawn, a chitter chatter rosy dawn

Also included in the story are the lost letters that the characters write to each other that are never received when communication is cut off. They never get the benefit of these, but we do. Here’s the end of a letter that Miri writes to Peder. Notice the lovely metaphor:

 … I am surprised by how much I miss a Mount Eskel winter. It is a relief not to be freezing day and night. But winter on Mount Eskel is a deep breath, an extra hour, a pause, little work and a lot of stories and songs. I miss you more than winter. You know that, but I want to say it again and again in case this is the time my words will actually reach you. I miss you, Peder. I miss you.

As with the previous books, there is a strong feminist message and this is my favorite aspects of the PRINCESS ACADEMY series. These stories should make young girls feel empowered to pursue education, make smart decisions, and unselfishly direct their own lives while considering the effects their actions have on others. I have purchased the series for my own daughters. HOWEVER, these books are NOT just for girls. My son, a football player, read The Princess Academy twice and loved it. The books are also not just for kids. Most adults will be just as enchanted and will appreciate Hale’s “message.”

Unfortunately, The Forgotten Sisters is being marketed as the last PRINCESS ACADEMY book, which is really disappointing. I rarely wish for a series to go on, but the last brilliant sentence of The Forgotten Sisters left me hoping for more. Perhaps Hale plans to revisit this world. I really hope so. Meanwhile, though, I’m happy to know that she’s got lots of writing projects she’s working on. Whatever they are, I’ll read them.

Mandi Lee narrates Audible Studio’s audio version of The Forgotten Sisters. This is a change from the previous books which were narrated by a full cast. I was a little worried about this change, but I needn’t have been concerned. Mandi Lee fits right in — her voice and delivery were perfect for Miri. I actually preferred this production over the full cast versions. It’s 7.5 hours long.

~Kat Hooper

The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale YA fantasy audiobook reviewsThe Forgotten Sisters is a charming threequel to Princess Academy. Miri is on her way from the capital city back to her mountain home when she is unexpectedly requested commanded by the king and queen to be the tutor for three royal girls living in a distant corner of Danland, in a mini princess academy, so one of them can marry a neighboring king from the country of Stora to avoid war. Miri reluctantly travels to the province of Lesser Alva to take on the year-long job, and finds three illiterate sisters living alone in a linder stone house in the middle of a swamp, scraping by by fishing and hunting. They’re especially good at caiman wrestling.

Not to mention all of the money to support Miri and the girls is being stolen by unscrupulous traders and the village head, and there’s a pending invasion from Stora, and the three girls have little interest in becoming educated and cultured, because that’s going to be so useful in the swamplands.

Turning them into princess material is going to be even tougher than Miri thought.

The Forgotten Sisters is an enjoyable middle grade/YA adventure with some nice twists to the plot and some good life lessons. Readers who liked Princess Academy should enjoy this one as well. It may not be quite up to the level of the first book, but it’s a better story than the second book in this series, Palace of Stone. It looks like this is the end of this series, but it ends on a really nice note.

~Tadiana Jones

Publication Date: February 24, 2015 | Age Level: 10 – 14| Grade Level: 5 – 8. After a year at the king’s palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher! Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses. As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen’s interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home. Fans of Shannon Hale won’t want to miss this gorgeously woven return to this best-selling, Newbery Honor-winning series.

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  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

  • Tadiana Jones

    TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.