by Dru Hunsaker
Shannon Hale is actually one of my favorite authors so it probably comes as no surprise that I am a tremendous fan of The Goose Girl. This charming novel is what I would label realistic fantasy. Now, Goodreads has a bookshelf set aside for books with such classification; however, I am not actually sure that this is a real genre. Consequently, I will do a little bit of explaining. Realistic fantasy, at least in my mind, is a “genre” for books that contain magical or otherworldly elements that are muted enough and logically explained enough as to make them seem plausible in the real world. Essentially, there is some discussion of the origin and mechanics of the fantastical element beyond, “I have magic. Watch me save the world.” The Goose Girl is such a realistic fantasy and I simply adored it.
The Goose Girl is the first in Hale’s Books of Bayern series, which I really can’t recommend enough to young adult, adult, or juvenile (with some adult help) readers who love fantasy with a medieval feel. The first book centers around Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee (and you thought your name was a mouthful), the crown princess of Kildenree. Like Hale, we’ll just call her Ani for now. Ani was born into a small kingdom that frequently clashes with its larger, more powerful neighbor, Bayern. In Ani’s universe, there are three kinds of “speakers” (this is where the fantasy element comes in). There are animal-speakers (this seems fairly self explanatory so I’m going to move on), people-speakers (basically they are just persuasive to the point that people kind of become mindless drones), and nature-speakers (nature-speakers can “communicate” with the elements like wind, water, and fire and essentially “control” them), who supposedly no longer exist in society. Ani’s mother is a people speaker and Ani is terrified of her because she knows that she is not the person her mother wishes she was. Ani is small and prone to illness and even as she gets older and stronger she wilts under her mother’s disappointing stare. She has four comforts in life: her story-telling aunt, her doting father, her horse Falada, and her lady-in-waiting Selia. Ani’s aunt is more of a mother to her than her real mother could or would ever be. She becomes something of her care taker and from a young age tells her stories of magic that prompt Ani to try animal-speaking with her dog and then birds down by the palace lake. Quickly, the aunt and the dog disappear at her mother’s behest and Ani is confined to her room for some time. News soon reaches the palace that Ani’s aunt passed away. This is really just the beginning of a downward spiral, because you have to realize that, at some point, all four of those things are going to be ruined some way or another.
Ani’s father, her only relative who really loves her, is killed during a riding accident. Then Ani is told that she is no longer the crown princess and will instead be shipped off to Bayern to wed their prince so that Bayern does not slaughter Kildenree. Her brother is going to take the crown that she simultaneously hates and has desperately been trying to accept/deserve her whole life. In return, her mother gives her a handkerchief with three drops of blood on it in some public display of motherly love, or something. Yeah. Her mother is a real winner.
Like Grandma’s home, Bayern lies over the river and through the woods, so off they go. Tagging along for the ride are Ani’s childhood guard friend, who first found her speaking the language of the birds, several men who wished they were guards, a few dozen mercenaries, and Ani’s lady-in-waiting turned evil-mastermind-who-always-wanted-her-crown, also known as Selia, who is going to try to kill Ani and take her place because they are both blonde and apparently the king of Bayern will accept whatever blonde girl with an army arrives in his country to marry his son (but really, he isn’t to blame. Who could’ve anticipated the crackpot friend?). Now, contrary to what you might be thinking, we’re only about a third of the way through this book at this point, but I’m going to stop and let you find out the rest on your own. Suffice to say that this is a charming coming-of-age tale about a girl who learns her own strength and uses is to save her kingdom from being ravaged by war.
The book has a few slower parts and the occasional moment that made me want to put my head under a pillow and hide, but I firmly believe that most good books do and those moments are no deterrent to finishing the book. I highly recommend The Goose Girl to lovers of realistic fantasy everywhere!