The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale: Review
Crown Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee is the heir to the throne of Kildenree, but has always felt more comfortable with the language of birds than she has with the language of people. Raised on her aunt's stories of animal-speaking, Ani learns to communicate with her beloved horse and the palace swans, but never quite finds the voice to be heard as a worthy heir to the throne.
When her mother arranges a marriage that sends her on a journey to a foreign country, Ani is left utterly defenseless before a mutinous plot against her life. Stripped of her title by her treacherous lady-in-waiting and fleeing for survival, she finds refuge in the guise of a lowly animal-worker—a goose-girl for the king. Surrounded and bolstered by her fellow animal-workers, Ani bides her time with a peasant's identity, gathering allies, building strength, and discovering within herself a new and powerful voice.
I am typically cautious when it comes to reading, but Shannon Hale's Books of Bayern (of which The Goose Girl is the first) have far exceeded my every expectation and absolutely blown me away. Exquisitely written, this book is complete with delectable descriptions, a delightful protagonist, charming side-characters, and an utterly nefarious villain. The touch of supernatural she blends into the story through the language of animals and wind brings the perfect amount of whimsy to an already magical story.
First of all, Ani is very touching as a protagonist, especially for a reader on the introverted side of the personality spectrum. As great as bold, capable female characters are, I'm often refreshed by protagonists that feel like real people in lieu of manufactured heroines. Ani is real. She is vulnerable, poignantly aware of her own weaknesses, and has to undergo some life-altering experiences before she recognizes her own strength. She has to find herself, to a degree, in the muddle of others' expectations and her own expectations for herself, and ultimately it takes the power of friendship and loyalty to show her who she is, and what she can achieve. If Ani were real, she is the type of person I would definitely treasure as a friend.
The plot in The Goose Girl was well-woven, if slowly-paced at times, with the kind of thoughtful, introspective writing style that I, for one, appreciate. Though not blindingly action-packed, the conflict is deliberate, dark, and dangerous for both the protagonist and those dear to her. The villain is sadistically shrewd and deadly--one of those antagonists that are equal parts fascinating, terrifying, and (of course) downright malevolent. Ani's experiences unfold vividly and powerfully, marking a clear journey in her character as she grows stronger with time.
Content Notes: References are made to witches abiding in the capital city; Ani has a brief exchange with one, but otherwise they have no real part in the story. I appreciated this immensely, as it's often an over-abundance of witchery and dark magic that turns me off of otherwise excellent books! The romance was beautifully sweet and simple and left me wanting more (also refreshing, since with YA fiction, the opposite can be true) and I thought the use of animal- and wind-speaking was fascinating. It gave the story a folk-ish, whimsical feel in the midst of very realistic conflicts.
I was delighted to learn that The Goose Girl is only one of a four-book series, and I can't wait to review the rest of this series that has quickly become a favourite!