Apr 7, 2008

River Secrets by Shannon Hale

River Secrets takes off more or less where Enna Burning left us. It is the aftermath of the war with Tira. To assure goodwill between the two kingdoms, a Tiran ambassador is coming to Bayern, and Bayern is sending its own ambassador to Tira. The Bayern ambassador is the king’s cousin, Lady Megina, and those who are to accompany her include familiar characters such as Talone, Finn, Enna and Razo.

But even before the journey begins, there is trouble. The King receives word that there is a group of discontent Tirans who are pressing for a return to war, and that their Assembly agreed to vote the matter in the Fall. The mission of the Bayern ambassador has become more dangerous, but also more important than ever. As the Queen says, “It’s easy to believe complete strangers are your enemies. If they knew us…”

Things are not to be easy, of course. Shortly after the start of the journey, Razo and Talone find a burned body. It seems that someone is trying to incriminate the Bayern – to force a return to war by making people believe that there is a fire-witch on the loose.

The story is told from Razo’s point of view, and his outlook gives a lighter – even humorous – tone to what would otherwise be quite a dark book. But this isn’t to say that there isn’t any darkness. There is mystery and suspense, there are conspiracies to be uncovered, there is hostility in the air. And some of the things Razo witnesses suggest that Enna has not yet fully recovered from what happened to her during the war – that perhaps she never will. But at the same time, there is a degree of innocence to Razo that changes the mood of the book. Even when he’s worried – and throughout the story he does a lot of worrying – he maintains his optimistic, pragmatic way of dealing with things. And that is part of his charm.

Like I said, there’s some mystery and suspense in the story, but, as in The Goose Girl, the answers to the mysteries are not difficult to guess. I could easily predict who was behind the conspiracy, what secrets certain characters were hiding, etc. But again, like in The Goose Girl, this doesn’t detract from the story in the least. More than about conspiracies, River Secrets is about bridge building – it’s about two different peoples getting to know each other and realizing that they aren’t that different after all. It’s about how dialogue can overcome suspicion and fear. And it’s just as much about all of this as it is about Razo growing up, realizing what his strengths and shortcomings are, accepting who he is, and falling in love.

There’s something I particularly love about Shannon Hale’s writing: I love how in her stories, relationship between characters are never set. Often in fiction, we are shown the obstacles two lovers have to overcome to get together, and once they do, that’s it. The story ends there. But as we well know, that’s when the story actually begins. Relationships are never set. They require work and dedication. And in Shannon Hale’s stories, we are allowed to see that.

While reading River Secrets I was once again somewhat reminded of Ursula Le Guin, and again I mean that as a big compliment. Shannon Hale is very, very good. I can’t wait for the fourth book in the Bayern series, Forest Born.

PS: I was taking a look around Shannon Hale’s website, and I realized that she has sections with extras for each of her books: extra chapters, deleted scenes, etc. How cool is that? If you’re a fan of hers, I urge you to go and take a look – there is lots to be discovered. However, those who have yet to read the books should be careful, as the extras include a good amount of spoilers.

Reviewed at:
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Book Nut


  1. She has a delightful website, that is for sure. It is a model of what an author's website could and should be like. Her site and Neil's are two of my favorites as far as what they do with them. I really enjoy reading her blog entries eventhough I don't keep up with them as I'd like. Glad you are enjoying her work.

  2. Can't wait to read this series. I've heard that she has an incredible website, but I've never checked it out because I didn't know much about her. Like Carl said, I've heard mostly that she keeps a great blog!

  3. I really must read these. I do have a copy of Book of a Thousand Days in my library stack!

  4. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh...I didn't even know she was writing a fourth book!

    Things have been so crazy lately that I've had next to no time to read. I'm dying to finish up my current read so I can get to Enna Burning! And River Secrets sounds every bit as delightful!

  5. Carl: I've been reading the blog lately, and it's great indeed. She seems to be such a great person, and plus she has a lovely sense of humour.

    Chris: I think you'll love these! And yep, the blog is great!

    Jenclair: I haven't read that one yet, but it sounds so good. I look forward to your review.

    Debi: I only found out recently too, and I was so so excited. Here's what she said about it:

    "The fourth Bayern book has been hard. Really hard. I'm cringing to get back into it. So I'm going to just dip my toes in first, to feel the temperature, then slowly lower in my legs by reading the manuscript in paper form as quickly as a reader might. Take notes. Get the general feel. Then after all that, after I get a really good idea of what I want to do, I'll start the slicing and dicing. It needs much work. I need to be brave to face it. Bring it on, Scary Green Manuscript Monster! I've faced you before, and I'll be victorious again! HA HA HA!"

    It sounds like it'll take a while, but lol! How can one not love her?

    I hope things get less crazy for you soon. I think you'll love Enna Burning!

  6. You've encouraged me to finish out the series. I loved Goose Girl but for some reason wanted a little break.

  7. I'm wondering if this is the same Shannon Hale who wrote Austenland? If so, she seems to be quite prolific and versatile. Anyway, all of your reviews certainly have my interest piqued!

  8. I loved The Goose Girl, but only liked Book of a Thousand Days. I think I should have gone on to read Enna Burning and River Secrets instead, because part of my disappointment (minor, I DID enjoy the book), was that it wasn't The Goose Girl. Now, I'll go back and read those two and look forward to the 4th one! And, yes, she DID write Austenland, which was a lot of fun.

  9. Yup, I love her site too! :)
    I've only read Goose Girl and have been meaning to read the others in the series. Have you read The Princess Academy? Is it good like the reviews say?

  10. I have read every Shannon Hale book and loved them all. Don't you think Austenland is a chick flit waiting to be filmed?? I really liked this review - especially your comments about Shannon's writing. I like her site too - did you read she's doing a graphic novel now???? I am quite excited for that :)

  11. Tricia: I hope you enjoy the rest of the series :)

    Trish: Like Robin said, yes, same author! She is prolific indeed!

    Robin: I know what you mean. Sometimes when I really love a book and then read something else by the author I am slighly let down because, well, it's not the first book. I hope you enjoy the next two in the series!

    Bunny B: I don't know, but I intend to find out. I plan on getting that one next.

    Corinne: I've heard of the graphic novel, yes. I'm excited too!

  12. I am so looking forward to reading The Goose Girl this month or next. I really hope to read the other books in this series, they sound so great :)

  13. I only recently discovered Shannon Hale because so many people are reviewing her books - I haven't read anything of hers yet, but I think my first one will be Goose Girl and I'm really looking forward to it!

  14. I agree about her website,it's really well done and whenever I read her biography or her tips to writer it makes me wanna sit down and write all day!
    plus she's hilarious!

  15. Rhinoa, I can't wait to see what you think of it!

    Joanna: I've only just discovered her too, and what a discovery!

    Valentina: I always love it when authors take the time to advise and encourage aspiring writers. And she's hilarious indeed :D

  16. There's a fourth book coming out?? I can't wait. I love Shannon Hale and haven't even visited her website. Must go right now. Thanks for the link.

  17. I've just finished this one and, yes, it is just as great as the others in this series. And now you tell me there is going to be a 4th! Brilliant :)


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