Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale

Three reviews in one this week! I felt like I needed to read all three of the books in this series before I could judge any one as a whole. A fourth book is coming out next September, which I will presumably review at that time. You may recognize the name Shannon Hale from the popular new graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge (which I didn't particularly like but don't have anything against); this series is older but ongoing.

The Goose Girl is the first book in the series, and is a retelling of the Grimm fairy tale by the same name. You can read the original story here at Shannon's website. I'd recommend reading it first... it gives away the plot, but I think I got more out of the book from knowing the original. I won't recap the plot here, except that the main character, Isi, learns magic and goes through a lot of hardships before the end, and even having read the fairy tale doesn't prepare you for the "reality."

The story follows the fairy tale in most particulars of plot, but fully fills in all the magical and personal details. A whole world is created within those parameters and it doesn't seem forced at all. The book dragged terribly over the first half for me, where everything is being set up for the main action, but it is VERY worth it to read on to the end because overall the book is fantastic! I especially love the unique magic that Shannon's come up with and how it fits into the story.

The main character starts out annoying, but that's the way she's supposed to be and she gets her act together around the same time the plot gets good. What really made the book for me was the cast of supporting characters who are detailed, funny, and endearing.
* * *

While Enna Burning is a sequel to The Goose Girl, it doesn't follow the same character or a fairy tale. It has a very different attitude than the first book, and the fact that it isn't recycling the same ideas is part of what makes it good. It's about one of the goose girl's friends, Enna, who discovers fire magic during a war with Tira, the kingdom to the south.

I was furious for most of this book. How could it HAPPEN this way?! This is wrong, she's not writing the book right! I hate it!

That was when I realized that Enna Burning isn't the same kind of story as The Goose Girl. Enna Burning isn't a fairy tale. It's a story about redemption. Reading it is like living the story itself, not being a character or living in the world, but living the actual emotion of the whole story, and it was worth it to go through all that with Enna.

Despite what I'm saying about it being different, if you liked The Goose Girl you'll like this one. The same characters are present and I liked seeing the update on them, especially Isi and Razo.

* * *

The third book, River Secrets, is about the abovementioned Razo, one of Isi's friends who is featured more prominently in Enna Burning. He is selected as one of the guards of a peace mission to Tira.

Again, this book has a much different atmosphere than the other two. This is a mystery, a political intrigue, a coming-of-age story. Instead of discovering magical talents, Razo discovers that he's pretty awesome all by himself. And where the mystery is concerned, it's a great one. Some parts I guessed and others were totally opaque, keeping the pages turning.

This one is hilarious due to Razo's less-than-serious influence. I was laughing so hard my sister came over from the next room to see what was so funny. My answer was "Here, read this whole book," which is exactly what I'm telling you!

The other thing that struck me was the effort Shannon's put into her worldbuilding. The separate countries aren't just identical places with different names, they actually have very different customs, languages, and geographies. Altogether, this book was exemplary.

* * *

The fourth book is called Forest Born, but as yet I don't know who it's about or what the plot might be. I do know that I'll be snatching it up as soon as it's available.

These books are really something exceptional, and each one has something to say. There's something in here for everyone, whether you like romance, fairy tales, fantasy and magic, mysteries, or just stories about people getting better rather than getting worse. The way the characters are portrayed is very organic and easy to relate to, and the plots will grab you and make you listen. Enjoy!

Buy the Books of Bayern


  1. So glad you enjoyed it! The Goose Girl is one of my favourite fairytales and you're so right about how natural the world Hale's built feels without letting go of the original plot. ^-^

    Is Enna Burning in first or third person? (I seem to recall Razo's novel is first...)

    (And I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who wasn't enamoured by Rapunzel's Revenge.)

  2. All three books are in very close third person. Several times I was suprised while reading when I realized it wasn't in first person, but it suits the books really well because it gives a sense of the wholeness of the story while focusing in on one person. Razo's book actually had a lot of his thoughts written out and was even closer to first person than the other two.

    Well, it was cute... just seemed like it was targeted to a very young age group or something. Not much finesse.

  3. That's interesting you should say that about Enna Burning. I started listening to the audio book after listening to The Goose Girl, and I ended up not finishing it because it was so unpleasant and upsetting to listen to! Maybe I should go back and try again.


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