It's rare that a sequel surpasses the first book in a series, especially when that first book was already outstanding.
Miri leaves Mount Eskel and heads to the capital city to help her friend, the future princess Britta, prepare for her wedding. While there she has the opportunity to further her education at Queen's Castle University where she studies history and literature, rhetoric and philosophy, politics and even ethics.
The value of books and education features strongly in this book, as it did in Princess Academy. Miri says, "the weight of all she did not know felt like a boulder on her back." (109)
But Miri also tries to apply the theory she learns to the decisions she must make, and this gives rise to several important considerations which run like themes throughout the story.
First there is the need to read and learn from history: to see what has worked and why. History showed that a spur of the moment revolution did not succeed; while it offered a temporary feeling of strength in the power to reject the oppressing authority, it amounted to nothing the following day. Then she considers the ethics of revolution by force: it can be just when the demands on a people are unjust, but one must also recognise the danger of a fiery crowd and the ineffectiveness of revolt once it loses control. It takes a long personal struggle for Miri to recognise that in revolution, the best solutions do not come through force.
She returns again and again to one particular ethical question which was presented as an example at the university: If a building were burning and you had to choose between saving a convicted murderer or a beautiful painting, which would you save? Though it seems to be a decision about the value of a person—even a bad one—over an object, Miri uses it to consider a different problem, relating it to her own dilemma about wanting to help her people through revolution against the political injustice of the monarchy, but not wanting to hurt her friend who is soon to marry into the royal family. She wants to help both, and asks why, or perhaps whether, that is impossible.
Miri also experiences the complexity of truth. She learns the harm of broadcasting personal thoughts to the world, especially when they are taken out of context. She experiences difference between fighting political injustice in theory and seeing that fight focused on a particular person, particularly when that person is her friend.
She learns that making ethical choices is not something that is always clear cut, but that ethics happens in the heart and in the head, and that one must study in order to make a good choice. Having studied, sought advice, and acted to the best of one’s ability, she learns that it is better to make a choice that turns out to be wrong than to make no choice at all. She sums this up – rather simply – when she states “Truth is when your gut and your mind agree.” (214)
On love and friendship, Miri learns that for love to be real it involves self-sacrifice, gratitude, negotiation and deep friendship. The relationships she develops in this book are deeper than in the first, but somehow they maintain a refreshing simplicity while still helping Miri to grow in wisdom.
The linder stone that connects some people’s consciousness with others' is said to allow them to sense what the other person is feeling. This becomes a poignant symbol of the sensitivity to detect truth, justice, goodness and love in one’s relations with other people. Miri’s role is effectively to help people in authority to re-awaken their ability to determine what is right, learning to listen and detect, to reflect and then act upon it.
If only Hale’s adult books could feature such wonderful characters and explore such great themes.
Clare Cannon is the editor of www.GoodReadingGuide.com and the manager ofPortico Booksin Sydney. She is travelling around the USA during October '12 to promote reading and The Good Reading Guide.
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