August 2, 2012

Review: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
Published: 2003, Bloomsbury USA
Series: The Books of Bayern, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Retelling
Source: Personal ebook

There in the cold, blue shadow of winter night, Ani cried for Falada, and for the beauty of the language of the wind, and for the reminder of who she was. 

I need to preface my review by first stating that I absolutely adore fairy-tale retellings. Fairy tales are usually so short and lack details and characterization, yet they're still able to grasp at universal truths and themes that continue to resonate in our daily lives. I was familiar with the Grimm brothers' tale "The Goose Girl" before reading Hale's version of the tale. I even reread the Grimms version before diving into Hale's retelling, but that did not make my reading experience any less enjoyable. Because I already knew the general gist of the story, I could really focus on what Hale does differently, and how she's able to breathe new life into this story.

The Goose Girl tells the story of Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, crown princess of the kingdom of Kildenree. After ostensibly spending the first sixteen years of her life in preparation to become her country's queen, Ani suddenly learns that the rule will pass to her brother while she is being given in marriage to the prince of Bayern, a neighboring kingdom. While not happy with the news, Ani is not the rebellious type and is willing to do what her mother commands. On the three-month journey to Bayern, Ani's own guards rebel against her. By the time she finally enters the capital city of Bayern, Ani must assume a new identity and take on work as the city's goose girl. She is willing to be patient, but she is determined not to let the truth remain hidden forever.

When retelling someone else's story, I imagine that it's always a concern of how to make your retelling stand out and become a legimitate story in its own right. I think that Hale does a fantastic job in her retelling of this classic (but perhaps not incredibly well-known) Grimms fairy tale. As with most fairy tales, "The Goose Girl" almost reads like the bare bone outline of a story. Throughout her retelling, Hale works to flesh out the original tale. We're given names for the characters, as well as personalities and motivations. I have recently come to the conclusion that I really do enjoy reading about political conflicts within stories, as long as they're not too drawn-out or feature too many characters/countries. With that being said, I really enjoyed the politics that Hale added between the countries of Kildenree and Bayern, as well as the smaller political conflicts between the different inhabitants of Bayern. All of the political and social issues gave the characters greater drive and actually helped to explain some of the parts that the original fairy tale simply revealed as a matter of fact.

I thought it was interesting how Hale chose to interpret the magical influences of the original tale. In the tale, the princess' horse Falada can speak and whenever the goose boy comes close to taking a strand of the princess' hair as she brushes it, winds rise up and cause him to chase his hat across the field. Instead of leaving those events unexplained and at odds with the rest of the story, Hale created the concept of the three types of speech: people speech, animal speech, and wind speech. Ani is not gifted with people speech (or the ability to speak eloquently and convincingly to other humans), but she finds out that she has a knack for animal speech, and wind speech is something that she gradually acquires. While I appreciate the fact that Hale chose to stay very close to the source material and thus created these different speeches, one always has to be careful while adding magical elements in a story. I liked the inclusion of the different speeches and felt it was a unique touch, but the various speeches turned the climax into too much of a deus ex machina for me, where the magical powers more than the characters themselves solve the major problems.

Ani is a great protagonist and I really enjoyed witnessing her growth throughout the course of the novel. Ani starts out as an incredibly naive and defeated character. She has absolutely no confidence in herself and her abilities, constantly comparing herself to — and coming up short of her mother, the great queen of Kildenree. Ani really doesn't desire to be queen and is bored by her life, but she knows her duties and does have a strong sense of responsibility. And, adhering to the formula for most fantasy novels, Ani must undergo both a physical and mental journey to finally come into her own. Ani is so very likable and definitely exhibits the importance of inner strength (a very good thing especially when the literary marketplace is deluged by so many actual fighting female protagonists). Against Ani, all of the other characters fall a little flat. (The only adjectives I can use confidently to describe love interest Geric are "kind" and "just.") But I do think this is partly due to the narration style. And flatter secondary characters simply gave me more of a reason to root for Ani and her personal development.

I am at a loss in terms of how to consider the novel's reading level. In the past I'd have called this a Young Adult novel without question, but I know that a lot of people see this as a Middle Grade novel. I tend to judge a book's target audience based on the age range of the protagonist and major characters. Of course there are always exceptions, but for the most part I think it’s pretty accurate. For the majority of the book Ani is sixteen while her maid Selia is eighteen. Some of Ani's friends are younger, but the novel's narration is done in a third-person limited perspective from Ani. For me this is definitely a YA novel, although perhaps it can be considered a younger YA. Certain aspects such as the romance and violence are written in a slightly more juvenile perspective. But they're all simply labels in the end and don't really affect my enjoyment or understanding of the book.

I can't wait to read more of Hale's work in the future! This is such an enchanting tale and I am always on the lookout for great fairy-tale retellings. I've already purchased The Book of a Thousand Days for my Kindle. I won't be reading or reviewing it for a while, however, since right now I am working on my own interpretation of "Maid Maleen," the Grimms fairy tale that inspired that book.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I read The Book of a Thousand Days. Awhile ago. Didn't know you were going to read it. As for the review, this book sounds great and I'd love to read a retelling of a Grimm tale. I've read this particular one many times.

    1. Yes, do read this one eventually! This retelling and the original tale aren't as dark as the Grimms can be, but it's still a great story.

  2. I love this book! You can also go on and read the sequels, which aren't really sequels. Enna Burning was really interesting, but Goose Girl was by far my favorite. I really like Book of a Thousand Days too.

    I see these as timeless! no middle grade or young adult, just like a good fairy tale should be :)


    1. Thanks for commenting, Mary! I have heard about the other Bayern sequels, and I will definitely keep them in mind. I just think I'll go into them subconsciously expecting a fairy-tale retelling right now and that'll cause me to be disappointed. So maybe after I've waited for a little while and I can read it in its own right.

      And yes, that's a great way to explain fairy tales! Definitely timeless!

  3. Lovely review! I discovered Shannon Hale this year myself, though I have yet to read The Goose Girl despite the fact that it is likely the most often recommended. I love when an author builds upon the bare bones of an original story, and I feel like her style in particular is wonderful. I kind of like that it defies definition in terms of age range, to me those are the books that are easiest to love for a lifetime.

    1. Thank you, Heidi! Me too! That's how all retellings should be. I think you should consider picking up this book the next time you're in the mood for a retelling - this is definitely worth a read!


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