Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson Book Review

Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: October 7, 2014

A girl from the forest arrives at Pennyroyal Academy, with no name and only the vaguest idea of why she is there. She enlists to become a Princess, a role that isn't about a title, but rather training, for Princesses are trained to fight witches. There she is given the number Cadet 11, which she shortens to "Evie", and begins life at Pennyroyal Adademy as a princess in training. As Evie learns what it means to be a princess though, she isn't sure if she is capable of fighting witches, but she does know there is a reason she is there.

I desperately wanted to like this book. A school where girls (princesses) are trained to fight witches and boys (knights) are trained to battle giants and dragons. Fairies are drill sergeants. The princesses of legend like Cinderella and Snow White are warriors. Secrets involving dragons, curses, and witches surrounding you at every turn. Sadly, what is a terrific idea was so poorly executed that I began to wonder if there was something the matter with me. Why would I continue to read a book that was so bad?

The first answer is simply that I was listening to it as an audio book and for some reason audio books feel like less work. I'm in the car anyway so I may as well listen to something, so why not this. A note regarding the audio book, the woman who read this Susan Duerden, was for lack of a better word--terrible. Although she did fine with the various voices, she ended almost every single sentence with her voice going up at the end. Every single sentence. This did give it a sing-song quality, but also made it sound strange, as if there was never an ending to any sentence.

The story itself was full of so many plot holes and unnecessary mystery that I started to become anxious. Evie arrives at the academy, having just run away from her dragon parents although she is human, and knowing nothing about the academy except what was on an advertisement that she happened upon in the forest. Although Evie has no name when she arrives and refuses to tell the reader, adults, or other cadets about her family, she is accepted right away. When they say she has a memory curse, she is adamant that she does not, even though she has no name or recollection of her life before living with dragons. In fact, it seems to surprise her greatly when the memory curse treatment begins to work. Halfway through Evie goes from a kind of likable but completely uncommunicative newbie, to an insufferable brat whose newfound communication skills are used to yell at the people around her. Then she magically finds her compassion at the end and becomes a warrior princess.

And there is the other rub. This is how magic apparently works for princesses: They are kind, loving, and compassionate. Once they find that inside of themselves they somehow can create a magical shield around themselves that can ward off witches. In the meantime, while they are trying to find that secret compassion within, they train in a boot camp that is absolutely ridiculous. At one point the princesses have to wrestle with the knights and use the skills they learned from their sewing and weaving classes to win. For some reason, even though these girls are supposed to be learning how to be fighters, they still have to attend balls, make dresses, and learn to dance. There is a war going on and these girls are running around pining after the knights and going to balls. On top of that, even though girls are regularly being sent away for not having what it takes to be a princess, one character in particular who is very very un-princesslike is allowed to stay for reasons that I can only assume have to do with keeping tension in the story. If you were trying to train girls who needed to be compassionate, loving, and kind, one would think they would have to take classes in caring for others. Wouldn't the teachers give lectures about what true compassion is? Wouldn't you go visit the town and help the poor and needy? Those things would teach compassion far better than a wrestling match in the mud or sewing a new dress.

The setting was vague throughout. I never got a good picture of how anything looked. The castle, the academy, where Evie lived with the dragons. And the romance. Evie spends so much time falling in love with a boy who drips with Prince Charming ooziness that it was sickening. Really, the boy was always charming and never once admits to her that she has saved his life numerous times. For whatever reason he can also turn himself into a frog which plays no significant role in the book whatsoever. By the way, why are the boys called knights and the girls princesses? Why aren't the boys Princes? I am also not sure what age this is geared toward. The corniness of the story made me think that it was for middle graders, but with the addition of heavy romance and the fact that Evie is fifteen, it is being touted as a young adult book. It is not. I was truly disappointed in this book (as you can see) and was really hoping for something with a bit more understandable magic and not as many secrets that weren't really secrets.