Putnam, 2014 311 pgs
Our story begins with an unknown timid and uncivilized girl, who frees a prince from a witch's captivity. She is journeying to apply to princess school, where they have allowed anyone to enroll because of recent threats to the land. The prince is also on his way to the academy to learn to be a knight and slay dragons. Despite initial unfriendly discrimination, the new girl is given a chance. Some of the other recruits are welcoming and nick name the new student Evie, after her assigned name of "Eleven". The Princesses at the Pennyroyal Academy are not learning how to sew and simply be demure. They are being trained to fight their most lethal enemies: witches. The academy is bewildering and difficult, but as time goes on Evie begins to adjust. One princess, Malora, and her gang of bullies continue to taunt Evie and make her life miserable. Part of Evie's reluctance to fit in is finally revealed: she was raised by dragons, a sworn enemy to the good people of the land, and beasts that the knights, including her crush Prince Remington, are sworn to eliminate. Familiar fairy tale elements and characters are introduced as Evie further acclimates. She is undergoing treatment for memory loss, which finally come to fruition as she meets the mother of her enemy Malora. A plot twist reveals that she and Malora are really sisters, which does not sit well with either girl. Evie's first year comes to a close, as she attends her first ball and attempts to pass her final test. Further threats to the land in the form of witch's and other evil creatures still loom at books end. A final surprise awaits the reader as the real truth behind Evie's parentage is disclosed and she comes to terms with both sides of her heritage. Evie makes it to the second year of her training, but what will that bring? Read the next installment when it is released to find out!
Pennyroyal Acedemy is a very cool place. Larson has taken familiar fairy tales and reconstructed them in a new and interesting way. This book is original, funny, and has a great plot with a couple of surprises I didn't see coming. Fairy tale novels are hot right now and this book has a ready-made audience. More humorous than Hale's Princess Academy, Pennyroyal Academy is more in the style of E.D. Baker. I love that Larson has included a male princess, named Basil, making the book inclusive to boys who identify more with princesses than knights. I'm not a hundred percent convinced that Larson knew what to do with this character. I was wondering how the ball scene would include Basil, but to my disappointment, it didn't. Still, this is Evie's story and it is well told. We see Evie's transformation from a feral dragon-girl not fitting in with either world to a fully confident princess. Pennyroyal Academy brings forth messages of being true to yourself, finding your inner warrior, acceptance of others who may be different, and that true families may not be that of our own blood. The title feels a little old fashioned to me. I thought the book would be Victorian in nature, but it is, in fact, a very contemporary fairy tale story. The cover is pretty cool looking and will attract the target audience. Pennyroyal Academy will appeal to girls more than boys and will be picked up by young ladies who grew up on Disney Princesses. Although this is a princess book, it is not sexist. The princesses are strong characters, train right along with the knights, and will go to war fighting witches upon completion of their training. Evie's crush turns into romance as the book progresses, but remains innocent to the end. I can't wait to see what adventures await Princess Evie and the rest of the gang at the academy.