Sunday, March 23, 2014

REVIEW: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

The Goose Girl (The Books of Bayern, #1)The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2003
Genre(s): Fantasy, YA
Series: The Books of Bayern #1
Awards: Mythopoeic Award Nominee for Children’s Literature 2010 (whole series), ALA Teen’s Top Ten
Format: Audio
Narrated By: Full cast Audio (so lots of folks)

The Goose Girl is a German folktale collected by the Brothers Grimm. I came to Shannon Hale’s re-telling of it without knowing any of the original tale and I think that enhanced my enjoyment. There is a great interview with the author at the end of the audio version and she explains how this was one of her favorite fairytales as a child except that she was always bothered by how passive the main character was in the face of her tribulations. Fast forward some years and Hale sits down to write and she feels the need to address this story flaw that has been worrying at her all these years. I think this must be how many great fairy tale re-tellings get written - an author needing to explain and expand on a favorite tale in order to satisfy their own discomfort with or dislike of some element of the story. Hale manages to keep all the major components of what is a very short and rather sketchy fairy tale while shifting it into a believable coming of age story.

The character development of Ani was definitely my favorite part of the book. When we meet Ani, she is a Crown Princess with an unusual ability to talk to animals. This ability isn’t quite proper for a princess and she learns quickly to hide it. Her mother, the queen, is remote and demanding and Ani grows up lonely, awkward and biddable. She accepts her duty as crown princess with little enthusiasm but does everything that is asked of her. So when the queen informs Ani that instead of inheriting the throne she is to be sent to marry the prince of the neighboring kingdom of Bayern in order to secure peace, Ani does not understand. She accepts this as she does everything else but rides off resentful and unhappy. I didn’t really like her at this stage of the book. She’s immature and sheltered and self-absorbed – not enough to truly provoke dislike but enough to keep me from loving her.

Hale does such a good job of then developing Ani slowly and believably into a compassionate leader who truly embraces her responsibilities rather than just accepting them. All that happens to Ani, even some truly heartbreaking events, are essential to giving her strength and wisdom. It’s all done amidst a highly enjoyable story with great characters, adventure, and romance. I was listening to this in the car and I found myself wishing for places to drive so I could continue with the story. I could barely make myself get out of the car when the book reached its climax.

There were a few things I wish had been developed a bit more like Ani’s relationship with her mother. I also would have liked to know a bit more about the society of Bayern and about Gerick but that would have been difficult without revealing one of the big twists of the story (though I saw it coming from miles away anyway). These are small niggles however! Even with a few disappointments, this was easily one of the best Fairy Tale re-tellings I’ve read! In particular, Hale does such a good job taking a lot of the sketchier bits of the fairy tale and fleshing them out into a fully developed magic system.

The audio version I was listening to was recorded by Full Cast Audio, meaning that various actors read the dialogue of the different characters. I didn’t love this for some reason – it was perhaps a little choppy – but I got used to it pretty quickly. It didn’t end up affecting my enjoyment of the book.

Final Verdict: A hugely satisfying fairy tale re-telling! Can’t wait to read more by Shannon Hale!

I've been on a bit of a fairy tale re-telling kick lately between this and The Lunar Chronicles.  They both take very different approaches to adapting the stories they are based on but are both really enjoyable.  What's your very favorite fairy tale? Have you read a re-telling of it that you particularly loved?  My favorite is probably The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson but it is just so damn sad.  I've not read a re-telling of it though I think one might be interesting.  I do like the Disney movie which changed the story substantially:)  Cinderella would probably come in second  - the original story isn't a total favorite but I like the trope of humble girl makes good and there are a lot of adaptations of it that I love.

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