Pennyroyal Academy by M. A. Larson may look like just another middle grade about princesses and the odd dragon, but it is honestly so much more. Pennyroyal Academy starts off with a main character who doesn’t have a name (as in, no, it’s not that she doesn’t remember, her family just never gave her one!), dressed in spiderwebs, running through the woods. It then proceeds to portray princesses in a way this feminist would love to see her daughter look up to, along with a twisty plot, creepy witches, and the potential for a great fantasy-school series! Honestly I wouldn’t expect any less from a writer of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic ;-).
Note: I received an advanced copy of Pennyroyal Academy from the publisher. Some things may have changed in the final version.
Pennyroyal Academy by M. A. Larson
Published by Putnam Juvenille on Oct. 7th, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, MG
Page Length: 304 pages
How I got my copy: Publisher
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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.
- Pennyroyal Academy starts off with action and mystery right away. We are presented with “a girl” running through scary woods, convinced she’s going to die. She doesn’t have a name, she’s looking for the princess from a flyer she found, and she’s dressed in spiderwebs. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a better intro, especially in middle grade!
- I went into Pennyroyal Academy expecting some light and fluffy fun middle grade, with hopefully at least one dragon since there was one on the cover (Is that why I picked this up? >.> That would be a yes.). What I got was so much deeper, with a redefinition of what it means to be a princess that upholds the goodness we all wanted, but strips away the overemphasis on beauty and femininity. There is even a boy in princess school!!!!
- I mentioned dragons right? Well they are awesome and refreshingly multi-dimensional (it helps that they can talk ;-) ). I’m really excited to see if we get to meet more dragons in future books or at least better get to know the ones we meet in Pennyroyal Academy.
- The witches serving as the villains in Pennyroyal Academy legitimately creeped me out! The visual descriptions stuck in my brain and what they threaten to do was the right blend of an actual scary consequence without being too scary for the target audience.
- I love love love that the princesses trained at Pennyroyal Academy are actually in bootcamp and expected to spar with the knights and become physically fit in addition to developing their compassion, kindness and bravery. This was such a wonderful change from what a princess has come to mean in our culture.
- I’m always impressed when middle grade has plot twists that I didn’t see coming. Even though I was definitely trying to guess where things were headed, Pennyroyal Academy still managed to surprise me and I loved it :D. The plot honestly felt more like a YA plot than a middle grade in terms of twists and awesome developments ;-).
- The ending of Pennyroyal Academy turned more towards the fluffy and cliched angle that I had originally expected, which disappointed me given its strong beginning. I honestly wouldn’t have noticed had the whole book been in that tone, but it wasn’t the epicness that I had started hoping for.
- The synopsis talks about Pennyroyal Academy being set in the Grimms’ fairytale world and while there are references here and there to Grimm princesses, that is really all there is. If you’re most excited about that aspect, you’ll be disappointed.
- There were several things in Pennyroyal Academy where it felt that awesome potential was setup and then not delivered on. For example, I kept hoping for the boy in princess school to be expanded on, but that plot thread was just left to the wayside. I’m hoping that they’ll be picked up in later books since that would be truly awesome, but in the meantime I was sad that Pennyroyal Academy didn’t grab all the possibilities it introduced in the beginning of the story.
Pennyroyal Academy is a great middlegrade that I highly recommend to all teachers and parents for their middle grade readers as well as us big kids ;-). Don’t be fooled by the bright pink cover, Pennyroyal Academy goes much deeper and darker than I had expected and I absolutely loved it for that. I’m very excited to see what the next book in the series brings!
Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you excited for it if you haven’t gotten to it yet?
Pennyroyal Academy by M. A. Larson
© 2014, Anya. All rights reserved.