I thought I might delve into the world of young adult (YA) fiction after seeing some of the things my 12 year old granddaughter has been reading. Oh my ... but that is a separate post entirely. I was searching out some books I could send that would hold her interest and be age appropriate without insulting her more adult reading level. I found what I was looking for in a series of books by Shannon Hale that deserve to be taken seriously by adults as well as the younger set.
My reading began with The Goose Girl which is a retelling of a Grimms' fairy tale by the same title. Hale's version is still very much a fairy tale, but is wonderfully fleshed out in characters, place and politics. The original Grimms' fairy tales were short on character development and detail, instead placing the focus on conveying a lesson to be learned.
This modern telling of The Goose Girl takes place in an unknown land and time that closely resembles medieval Germany ... or at least what one would imagine as medieval Germany ... and is wonderfully resplendent in castles, medieval towns and forests. Hale's use of this place and time nicely parallels that of the original German fairy tale while adding detail to capture the imagination. I'm particularly fond of a description of the town of Bayern, looking from afar, just like a birthday cake ... the tiers of the town rise up and up until reaching the castle at the top with orange banners flying round the sides just like flaming candles.
The story begins with the birth of the Crown Princess of Kildenree who is born with the gift of "animal speak." Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isillee, or Ani for short, is more comfortable in the natural elements and with animals than she is with court society and people. This is a distinct disappointment to her mother, the Queen, who must raise Ani to be the next ruler of Kildenree. Unbeknownst to Ani, the Queen arranges a marriage that will wed the crown princess into another kingdom thereby allowing the Queen to appoint Ani's brother as the next ruler of Kildenree.
A brokenhearted, yet obedient, Anidori sets off shortly after her sixteenth birthday to marry the Crown Prince of Bayern. She is sent on this months long journey with a retinue of palace guards and Selia, her lady-in-waiting. Like any good fairy tale, Ms. Hale's story involves both good and evil characters. It becomes clear shortly after the journey begins that Selia is a jealous and evil lady-in-waiting who has put in place a plan to betray her mistress and present herself to the Crown Prince of Bayern as Princess Anidori, his intended bride and future queen of that kingdom.
Ani, who has never seemed a particularly strong person, shows an amazing strength and resilience after this betrayal by her most trusted friend. She takes refuge as a goose girl, tending the King's geese, as she awaits an opportunity to rightfully reclaim her place and denounce the murderous Selia as a faux princess.
Ms. Hale skillfully incorporates other fairy tale characteristics into her own story including magical elements (the ability to converse with animals and control natural forces), misleading appearances (I don't want to give this one away!), conquest of good over evil (did I just give away the ending?) and transformations. The transformation of Ani from a shy young girl into a confident young woman ready to become ruler of a kingdom is one of the primary triumphs of this telling of the story and distinguishes this modern version from the Grimms' tale. The tale itself is delightfully transformed into a satisfying coming of age story.
I encourage those who hesitate to read this book because of its YA status to pick this one up and enjoy the telling of a good and gratifying tale. It really is a book for young and "old" alike.
Also reviewed at:
The Written Word