I'm re-posting this from my Goodreads account. I reviewed the book there, but wanted to share my thoughts here, too.
I finished this book some time ago and waited awhile before deciding to leave a review. I've been debating with myself whether or not my expectations were too high. PRINCESS ACADEMY is probably one of my all-time favorite books, and Shannon Hale is absolutely one of my favorite authors.
Let's put it this way: If this were a debut novel by a new author, I would probably give it four stars. Pretty good effort, and so much YA fiction published recently is not that great. A lot of it is over-hyped, primarily because booksellers have discovered that YA is a booming market, and terrible books like The Twilight Saga have done shockingly well, while "pretty good" books like The Hunger Games have practically smashed records.
But this is a Shannon Hale book, and the sequel to a Newbery Honor book. At best, it's a two star read. But I can't bring myself to give a Shannon Hale book two stars. She's too amazing a writer for that. So three stars it is.
I follow Ms. Hale on Twitter (being the perhaps slightly obsessed and devoted fan that I am) and saw her tweeting countless times about how much she shaved off from her original draft. Well, maybe this knowledge colored my reading of the book, but this really showed. The transitions between scenes are lightning fast and often make very little sense. The atmosphere of the city is NEVER explored, not in the way Miri's village or the academy was. I have no idea what the city is like, other than "generic fantasy novel city."
Characters are not given time to develop. There is a tutor who was basically as fleshed out as the wallpaper in Miri's new classroom. A revolutionary turns out to be a "bad" woman. A new love interest turns out to be a rascal. I didn't particular care when these two revealed their true colors because they didn't really have any colors to begin with.
And yes, you saw that right. A love interest. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to see PALACE OF STONE succumb to the Twilight and Hunger Games obsession with love triangles. I ALMOST stopped reading the book. And no, it was not a well-written triangle. Might I also add that Miri and Peder's friendship basically transitions from "friends who are shyly interested in one another" (Princess Academy) to "okay, I think we're engaged" (Palace of Stone). This is incredibly frustrating to the reader. How did this come about? Very little of their friendship/relationship is actually IN the book. As soon as they arrive in the city, Peder returns to his apprenticeship and is practically never heard from again. Miri visits him once or twice, but these scenes are not memorable. The same goes for her friendships with her fellow princess academy graduates. One girl basically "turns bad" for no particular reason at the very end of the book. Katar's anger is diminished, rendering her lifeless and dull. Gerti disappears. Frid disappears. Esa disappears. Britta -now an actual princess, and apparently Miri's best friend (since when...?)- also disappears. Prince Stefan... who's that?
The theme of revolution is rushed (why are the "shoeless" angry? TAXES! And...? And...?) and poorly, almost ridiculously, resolved. I finished and actually felt as if it tainted my experience with PRINCESS ACADEMY.
I cannot really recommend this book. I recommend all of Hale's other masterpieces: PRINCESS ACADEMY, BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS, GOOSE GIRL. I'm certain this one was just a dud... Ms. Hale herself said she had been reluctant for a long time to write a sequel to PA. (FYI: I think sequels may just not be right for her wonderful narratives. The book that follows GOOSE GIRL has been equally difficult for me to get through. Some of the magic has just been... lost.)
I hope this review can be helpful to someone considering reading the book, and I hope I've explained why I didn't care for it, but that my esteem for Shannon Hale remains strong. A disappointment is just that: a disappointment.