Saturday, May 2, 2015

Book Review: Goose Girl

Shannon Hale is an author who I feel like I hear about more often than I should, which isn't a bad thing but just a curious thing. She started writing mostly middle grade books once I was already in mid-late high school at least so while I've read a little of her work before (The Princess Academy, also one of the graphic novels she's written for, Rapunzel's Revenge) I haven't been actively looking for her work since it's a little young for me. I forget how this one ended up on my kindle from the library recently (my to-read list is the size of a small mountain so it's rare I do remember recommendations these days) but wasn't too worried, I did enjoy The Princess Academy after all.

Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Princess Anidori–Kiladra Talianna Isillee didn't open her eyes for three days after she was born since there was a word on her tongue that she couldn't quite grasp. For years her aunt helped show her the still remaining, hidden magic of that world and guide her towards what that word might have been before Anidori was locked into a life at court. Now of age and denied her crown she's sent to their warmongering neighbor to create peace through marriage but it seems like there were threats inside her own country to begin. 

I'll confess I'm not familiar at all with the Grimm's fairy tale that Hale based part of the story off of but I was struck how her own prose made this story feel like a fairy tale. It's a combination of very careful word choice and by keeping the audience a certain distance away from the main character without being obvious about it. We follow Anidori for every step of her hero's journey as she starts out as a princess and ends up as a gooseherd and are privy to her thoughts and plans but there's still a certain detachment there, partially at least I think since her thoughts are simply less colloquial than the reader's. I was impressed at how well Hale was able to write a naive lead, it's so easy for them to come off as dumb and whiny but the slightly long beginning of the story turned out to be a great set-up for her thoughts and expectations (it's not full enough to be called a worldview) while still giving her the inquisitiveness needed to make the choices that let her grow up. While I was reading I was questioning if this was a middle grade or a young adult novel after all, reviews seem to list it as grades 6-9, the plot isn't overly complicated but Anidori's growth is a bit more fleshed out than I'm used to in MG and felt a little more mature for it. Whichever it is I think you could safely give it to either audience without the reader complaining that it was too hard or too easy.

Back to the heart of the story, I'm happy this book has sequels since I felt like the world wasn't quite as well fleshed out as it could have been. It's part of a series called "The Books of Bayren" (Anidora's new home) but we don't actually see much of the country in the story, just a bit of a fairly standard medieval-with-light-fantasy castle setting and only hints at a combination society with a very different peasant culture. I've seen a lot of books set in medieval castles, personally I just want more varied settings so hopefully the next few books will give me that instead with the same strong characterization and fairy tale influences. I did enjoy the book, even if some of the final reveals were a bit of a stretch, although I'm not not completely sure if I want to read the sequels since this was largely self-contained and I'm satisfied with the story (also my to-read list really is that enormous). I probably will get around to reading at least one more of the books later this year  but I do wish that Hale had started writing a few years earlier since I would have enjoyed this as a middle schooler/early high schooler when I wasn't finding as many books like this.