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River Secrets, by Shannon Hale: Review

When Bayern sends an ambassador into the land of Tira, Razo feels under-qualified to be chosen as part of the escort. After all, he's nowhere near the strongest of Bayern's warriors, and his inability to take anything seriously makes him anything but formidable. So from the moment the escort reaches Tira, Razo is plagued by one question: why is he here?

The answer becomes clear when the first dead bodies begin to appear around the palace. Suddenly Razo has a crucial role to play, and his talents, along with his allies, old and new, may be the key to solving a deadly riddle for Bayern.

River Secrets, book three in Shannon Hale's Books of Bayern, is a refreshing contrast to the first instalments, The Goose Girl and Enna Burning. While the first books revolve around wind- and fire-speakers, this story takes a step back from language powers to show us the world through the eyes of a character who seems—but only seems, mind you—ordinary. There were some familiar faces (a perfect touch of continuity) and also some delightful new additions, like the fair Lady Dasha. The new setting in Tira injected even more colour into the series, and it was exciting to see how Hale made Tira its own world, unique from the homeland of Bayern.

Razo is featured in both the previous books with increasingly prominent parts, but this book is his shining moment—Razo's big break! I loved his perspective and the voice Hale gave him, full of quirky observations, honest thoughts, and sparkling humour. He's the kind of character who makes himself very difficult to dislike—and anyway, why would I want to? He completely stole my heart!

Plot-wise the book has some lagging moments, but the mystery keeps the wheels moving toward a thrilling climax. The combination of undercover spy/murder mystery/assassination plot/threat of war makes for some serious intrigue.

Content Notes: Romance is clean, and physical fighting is tame. Characters may be said to "curse" but the words themselves would not be stated explicitly. In one anomalous scene, a servant girl with questionable motives briefly behaves provocatively while sitting in Razo's lap, but it's over almost before it starts and isn't repeated in the story.

River Secrets is a colourful splash in the Books of Bayern series, sparking with life and vibrancy through a bright new protagonist and setting. I made a friend in Razo, and loved exploring the deeper parts of his loveable personality. It was a jewel in the middle of a fabulous saga, and made a seamless way for the fourth and final book!

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