Thursday, 25 June 2009

Book Review: Shannon Hale - The Goose Girl

This was another book passed to me by Long-Suffering Sister, who contrary to expectation (especially considering her past penchant for Sweet Valley High books) has really been giving me some really good books to read (Zorro, Ines of My Soul).

I love a good old fashioned fairy-tale – anything with a princess, knights, three sisters, seven brothers or a step-mother is a step in the right direction for me. Indeed this book reads like a grown up fairy-tale in many places. The Goose Girl is the story of Crown Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee or “Ani” of Kilendree, daughter of a aloof queen and groomed from childhood to succeed to the throne. As a child Ani is drawn to nature and to the language of animals. “people-speak” as her wild and affectionate aunt call’s it, is not something that comes to her naturally, leaving her tongue-tied and awkward. Seeing her tendency to be drawn towards wildness a sshe see’s it, the Queen bears down on Ani ensuring that she is kept within the confines of the palace grounds and concentrates on becoming the future queen. This is until her sixteenth birthday, when unfortunate events reveal to her that she will not be Queen, but must travel to marry the prince of the neighbouring kingdom of Bayern to prevent war between the two nations. In her place, her younger brother is to become King.

We follow Ani on her journey to Bayern, attended to by her friend and lady-in-waiting Sierra, who sees strangely keen on the impending union, that Ani is resigned to. We find though, that matters are not as they seem, as the journey takes a dangerous turn and Ani has to fight for her, life, her identity and her country.

I did think that the book was written rather simply, more for teenagers than an adult fairy-tale in the vein of say Juliet Marillier’s “Daughter of the Forest” which is a Celtic fantasy woven from a fairy-tale (involving swans not geese though) and very grown up in many of it’s themes. The Goose Girl touches on themes such as the relationship between mothers and daughters, betrayal, duty and the treatment of those without power, yet in never visits these too deeply, never really explores them in any real depth.

Having said this, I could not put this book down. One flaw in many books, is that despite good writing and a good plot, the one factor that keeps us drawn in is missing – a protagonist we can care about. Ani is deeply flawed in many ways – na├»ve, overly-trusting, lacking in confidence and self-belief, but she is essentially good. She cares for others and she cares for the plight of others, we never find her assuming she is better than another because of her royal blood. Her flaws make her much more real to us and her struggle to overcome her horrendous situation is something that anyone can relate to. I do think in retrospect though, that perhaps the good and bad characters were too clearly drawn out – black and white and nothing in between as in real life. Another factor that made this book feel it was appropriate for a slightly younger audience.

All of the above being the case, we care what happens to her, we long for a good ending. At the same time the story moves at a fast pace – from one dangerous situation to the next terrifying one and onto its slightly disappointingly predictable ending ( I knew what would happen, I just couldn’t think how).

In all this was an enjoyable, easy to digest read, with some lovely dialogue, but not much depth.


1 comment:

  1. i don't ever recall reading sweet valley high! i must have at most flicked through one throught it boring!!

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