I received this book for free from Book Expo America in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson
Series: Pennyroyal Academy #1
Published by Putnam Juvenile on October 7th, 2014
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Source: Book Expo America
Pennyroyal Academy: Seeking bold, courageous youths to become tomorrow's princesses and knights….Come one, come all!
A girl from the forest arrives in a bustling kingdom with no name and no idea why she is there, only to find herself at the center of a world at war. She enlists at Pennyroyal Academy, where princesses and knights are trained to battle the two great menaces of the day: witches and dragons. There, given the name “Evie,” she must endure a harsh training regimen under the steel glare of her Fairy Drillsergeant, while also navigating an entirely new world of friends and enemies. As Evie learns what it truly means to be a princess, she realizes surprising things about herself and her family, about human compassion and inhuman cruelty. And with the witch forces moving nearer, she discovers that the war between princesses and witches is much more personal than she could ever have imagined.
Set in Grimm’s fairytale world, M.A. Larson’s Pennyroyal Academy masterfully combines adventure, humor, and magical mischief.
M.A. Larson’s debut novel, Pennyroyal Academy, is a charming middle grade story (with some crossover appeal to young adult readers) that is sure to delight readers with its fairy tale lore, magic, and mystery. At the end of the day, this short little story just left me wanting… a bit more.
I will say that I was instantly intrigued by the main character. At the beginning of the book, she didn’t even know who she was. She had no name – but one goal in her mind: to join the Pennyroyal Academy. Once there, she finds it’s a school that trains girls (and one boy pressured by his mother, to add some hilarity) to be princesses and boys to be knights. The princesses, if they get through the many tests and trials of the school, will grow up to defend the various kingdoms from witches, while the knights would fight dragons. The main character quickly gets a nickname – Evie – and throughout the story we gradually find out who she is and where she came from. Obviously there are some surprises and spoilers in that, but let me just say that I loved it. I thought it was so creative and exciting, and I loved the messages of finding yourself and how your heritage shapes you.
The storytelling ties in well with the world building, which I found really cool. Obviously this kind of magical boarding school/academy type thing will remind one of Harry Potter. It’s kind of unavoidable. But I felt it had sufficient differences, because it really delves into this fairy tale type world. All the fairy tales we are told are basically real stories – the history of this world, where princesses defeated witches with their courage, compassion, kindness, and discipline. Indeed, these princesses don’t just sit back and do nothing, waiting for a knight to help them. (Though I wouldn’t have minded seeing a princess pick up a sword to slay a dragon, just sayin’. The fact that they “fight” with the magical powers of their hearts was just a bit too cliché for me.)
However, the pacing of the story is rather odd. Months go by in mere paragraphs of text, classes and training sessions are hastily glossed over, and it was hard at times to keep track of where this story was actually going. What was it leading up to? I liked the ending, which I found to be pleasantly exciting, but it still felt a little underdeveloped. Kingdoms had been under attack for months by witches and nothing is really done with that. It’s just something that gets mentioned in passing rather often, but it actually played almost no role in the plot of this book at all. It makes me think there’s a sequel coming, though I can’t find any announcement about that as of yet. Would I read it if it came? I dunno. (Edit: Yeah, appears this will be a duology. Hm.)
Sadly, I lacked the spark that would make me really rave about this book, and I’m not sure why. It’s partially that hint of an underdeveloped plot, for sure. I think it’s also in large part the characters. Though the mystery of Evie’s identity did keep me intrigued, I found her personality to be rather flat. And I could say the same about the other characters, except maybe Remington, who passively functions as a love interest. (Romance isn’t a big part of the story, but it was there and I liked it.) To show you how underdeveloped they are: I don’t even remotely know how old any of them are. They could be 13. They could be 16. The book didn’t tell me.
But from middle grade fantasy books I really expect a big creative spark and humor – and both just didn’t quite make it. My biggest disappointment, I think, is the lack of humor. I mean, the premise even promised it! I don’t think I laughed even once. The tone of the book was much more serious than I expected – especially given the whimsical cover and premise. The book was good. But not great.