Mar 24, 2008

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

In this retelling of the Grimm’s fairy tale of the same title, our heroine is Ani, Crown Princess of the kingdom of Kildenree. Ani was different from the moment she was born. As a newborn baby, she kept her eyes closed for three days straight. In her childhood, her companion was her aunt, who told her the old stories, stories of a time when people could speak with animals and with the elements. Thanks to her aunt, Ani learned the language of birds, and she learned how to form a special connection with her horse, Falada, by being there when he was born and learning his true name.

Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Ani is informed by her mother that she is to travel to the kingdom of Bayern to marry the prince, thus forming an important political alliance. As those familiar with the fairy tale no doubt know, things take an interesting turn when, during the journey, Ani is betrayed by her lady-in-waiting. After that, she has to depend on her own resourcefulness to recover her place.

Shannon Hale follows the structure of the Grimm’s fairy tale quite closely, but at the same time she fills it with a myriad of rich, unique details that make this story her own. One of the reasons why this novel works so well is, for me, the appeal of its main character. Ani turns out to be the opposite of a spoilt, na├»ve princess. She is aware of her own limitations – she knows that she has been privileged, that she was sheltered her whole life, and her success is the result of her conscious efforts to surpass these limitations. She reveals herself to be strong, clever, resourceful, sensible and independent, but also not afraid to count on the help of the friends she makes along the way. These friends are a colourful cast of secondary characters that do much to add to the depth of the world Shannon Hale created.

Another of the book’s strongest points is how perfectly Shannon Hale recreated the voice of a fairy tale. One could say, of course, that finding the right voice for the story is always important, but I find that in fairy tales in particular, if the voice is not right the whole thing falls apart. This certainly does not happen in this case. Shannon Hale’s use of language is not excessively flowery, but it’s also not wholly unadorned, and the tone is evocative of a timelessness that is perfect for this tale.

I suppose I could say that the story was predictable, but I mean that in the fairy tale sense, which is not a negative sense. I could easily guess who was pretending to be whom, who would turn out to have survived, but while I knew where the tale was going, I didn’t know how it would get there, and finding out as I went along with the story was a thrill.

As a fairy tale lover, I was delighted with what this book had to say about storytelling in general and fairy tales in particular. Let me share a favourite passage. This is a conversation that takes place after Ani shares one of the stories her aunt used to tell her with her fellow workers:
“Well, what’s it supposed to mean? Horses eating gold and turning into wind. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I don’t know” said Ani. She looked at her hands. “I guess I never really knew what it meant, I just thought it was beautiful. I remember when my mother overheard my aunt telling me a story like that one, my mother was mad. But my aunt said, if we don’t tell strange stories, when something strange happens we won’t believe it.”
I don’t think I have been this completely enchanted by a book since I read Stardust for the first time. As I mentioned before, Shannon Hale used the Grimm’s fairy tale as a departure point to carefully craft a very rich world, and I am very happy to know that she continued to explore it in further books. I ordered Enna Burning as soon as I finished The Goose Girl, as I can’t wait to read more about this world and these characters.

Other opinions:
Bold Blue Adventure
The Bluestocking Society
Books & Other Thoughts
Blue Archipelago
A Adventure in Reading
A Striped Armchair
Stephanie's Written World
Melody's Reading Corner
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Words by Annie
Nothing of Importance
Chain Reading
Library Queue
Maggie Reads
Quixotic
A Fondness for Reading
The Written World
My Fluttering Heart

23 comments:

Chris said...

So she actually turned The Goose Girl into a series? That's cool! This is another one that I really have to get. And it seems like the perfect read for this time of year. After your and Debi's review I think I'm in love with this book already...And now you've made me want to read Stardust all over again too :p

DesLily said...

wow.. this seems to be "the book" for this challenge.. I noticed quite a few have it on their list to read during the challenge. This is the first I heard it was a series though!

great review! and as always, glad when it's an enjoyable read!!!

Debi said...

How do you do it?!! You managed to put into words all the feelings I had while reading this...but couldn't manage to spill out when I tried to talk about it. One of the things I wanted to say but couldn't figure out how was about the predictability...how even though I knew what was going to happen, I didn't know how it was going to happen, and I was so anxious to find out that "how" that I couldn't set the book down even when I really needed to be doing other things.

I'm so glad you enjoyed this book! Sounds like I'd better pick up Stardust next, if it's comparable on the "enchantment" factor. I've discovered that I really like being enchanted! :)

Debi said...

By the way, I'm glad you mentioned that Enna Burning was next...for some dumb reason I thought River Secrets was next. I would have hated to read them "out of order". Thanks!

Melody said...

I've seen this book on several blogs and it sure looks like a must-read for me. Have to add this on my wishlist! I had bought a few books over the weekend so it looks like I've to spend some more money on books...again. ;P

Thanks for the great review, as usual!

Corinne said...

I'm so glad you liked it! I loved all three books - great review :)

Stephanie said...

Great review! I can't wait to dig into this book for the Once Upon a Time Challenge!

Iliana said...

Yep, I keep seeing this one all over the place and I think I have to read it. It sounds wonderful and I can't even remember the last time I read a fairy tale - I think it's about time I read one again :)

Literary Feline said...

I'm not familiar with this story and so your review offered me a look at something I hadn't known before. It does sound good! You always read the most interesting books!

Andi said...

I'm really glad to read this review because 1) I haven't read any of Shannon Hale's stuff yet 2) I eye this book every time I'm in the YA section! Glad you enjoyed it so.

Becky said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hope this review inspires others to pick it up for the challenge. It's definitely a must-read in my opinion for fairy-tale lovers. I just love Shannon Hale. You should try to read Book of A Thousand Days as well. (Also by Hale). It was an amazing book.

Rhinoa said...

I only skim read the last paragraph of your review this time as I am due to read it in April or May and I didn't want to spoil it too much despite knowing the original tale. I read enough to know you really enjoyed it which is always encouraging. I am really looking forward to reading this even more now!

Nymeth said...

Chris: Yup, she has! How cool is that? As far as I know the following two books are not actual continuations of the story, but rather stories about secondary characters in this book. But still! You just have to read this one, I know that you'll love it!

Deslily: I noticed that too...now that I've read it, I can see why it's so popular!

Debi, you did express yourself perfectly in your review of this one. In fact, that was the reason why I picked it up right away! I had no idea you hadn't read Stardust yet...you HAVE to! I'm sure you will fall in love! And you're welcome :) Sometimes I get those things mixed up too.

Melody: it is a must-read! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Corinne: Thanks :) I can't wait to read the next two! And I read today that she is writing a fourth...yay!

Stephanie, can't wait to see what you think of it!

Iliana: As far as fairy tale retellings go, I think this is as good as it gets. It's definitely one of the best I've read to date. I hope you enjoy it :)

Literary Feline, you do too :P I hope you enjoy this one.

Andi: This was my first book by Shannon Hale, and now I want to read everything she's ever written. I think you'll enjoy it too.

Becky: I remember reading your review of Book of a Thousand Days - I've wanted to read it ever since! I will definitely get it at some point, now that I know for sure that I love Shannon Hale's writing. I can see her becoming a new favourite author of mine.

Rhinoa, I'm sure you're going to love this one!

Carl V. said...

Great review. I adored this story when I read it a few years back. Ani was such a wonderful character and Hale is such a joy to read. We all pretty much know how fairy tales will turn out and that is really okay, it is all about the journey and a really good storyteller will make that journey entertaining and touching even if one knows how it will end.

Nymeth said...

Carl: Yup, and she clearly is a very gifted storyteller. I keep going outside to check if the postman has brought my copy of Enna Burning yet!

Trish said...

I've seen this book on a lot of people's challenge lists, and I've seen Hale's name a lot recently on the blogosphere. I love re-tellings of fairy tales. I really need to read Stardust!

Nymeth said...

Trish: You do need to read Stardust, and this! There is a reason why Shannon Hale's name pops up so much. I think it's hard not to be charmed by this book.

Trish said...

I know--my wishlist has been growing rapidly the past few months and I think there are a few Shannon Hale titles on it (although this is the first review I've read of The Goose Girl).

Rachael said...

Charming and enchanting indeed. I was carried away by this book, and her others. Particularly enjoyed Book of a Thousand Days, too. Sounds like Shannon Hale has another book coming out: RAPUNZEL'S REVENGE. Can't wait!

Framed said...

This was my first Shannon Hale book and now I am a big fan. I heard her speak once and she has a great sense of humor that slips into her writing. Can't wiat for "Rapunzel's Revenge." I think I will read that and Donna Jo Napoli's "Zel" close together. It will be interesting to compare the two.

Nymeth said...

Trish: I think you'll be thankful to have added her to the wishlist!

Rachael: I'm very much looking forward to Rapunzel's Revenge. And I need to get my hands on Book of a Thousand Days!

Framed: I am now a big fan too! You can definitely tell from her writing that her sense of humour is great. I finished Zel a couple of days ago, and wow - very disturbing, but very good. Comparing them should be interesting indeed.

Quixotic said...

I don't know if you saw my post on it last year (it was one of my first books of 2007, if not actually the first one, I can't quite remember), but I absolutely loved this book.

I have Enna Burning on the shelf waiting for me to get to it. I'm torn between jumping in and saving it for a rainy day. *grin*

Fence said...

I've just read this for this year's Once Upon a Time challenge, and yes! it is very reminiscent of Stardust in the way it made me feel. I'll have to get started on more Hale books now :)

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