It made me a bit sad that my library’s copy of The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale was blurbed by Stephenie Meyer. It’s a much better book than Twilight.
As you might guess from the title, this is another retold fairy tale, suitable for the Once Upon a Time challenge. The Goose Girl is about Ani, a princess who’s never been very good at the job. Her mother sends her to a neighboring kingdom to be married, but along the way her lady-in-waiting, Selia, stages a mutiny and usurps her place. Ani makes her way to the capital, but has to hide from her enemies in the role of Goose Girl, tending to the royal flock. And that’s where she begins to find friends–and her own strengths.
This book reminds me of a lot of other books, while being very uniquely itself. It’s a story about a none-too-successful princess who has to find a way to save the kingdom. There are plenty of books like that, but Ani and her particular path feel very different than most of them. Most ordinary princesses are freckled tomboys. Ani is a beautiful blonde who desperately wants to be a proper princess, but has lived all her life in the shadow of her strong-willed and charismatic mother. Even though Ani tries very hard, she just doesn’t have her mother’s charm and poise, or talent for handling people.
Ani isn’t a plucky heroine who immediately sets about to save the day when the situation goes bad. She spends much of the book hiding, with her primary goal being to save herself. Somehow I liked that about her–she feels very real, and her challenges (and ultimate solutions) feel believable. She’s a likable heroine with depth, and strength that emerges over the course of the book. There’s some magic in the story (Ani can understand birds, and talk to her beloved horse), but it feels largely secondary to Ani’s personal growth, as she realizes her own abilities and begins to look beyond herself as well.
Hale’s writing is beautiful, with a nice fairy tale flavor while having much more detail and plausibility than the Brothers Grimm usually go in for. She created a vivid world, with two countries that have clear cultures and customs. And there’s some humor and romance in here too.
I thought the last hundred pages or so were somewhat dragged out, though the ultimate climax is exciting. It’s a little hard to explain without spoilers; there was a plot twist that seemed unnecessary to me, and just pulled the story out longer before we got to the final confrontations. The romance turns out rather convenient–but it IS a fairy tale retelling, so it’s just about what I would expect! And it’s a sweet romance for all that.
If you like retold fairy tales, I’d recommend adding this one to your list. The original “Goose Girl” has never been a particular favorite of mine, and I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. Hale has made a wonderful story out of it–something she does consistently in other books too. When people ask me about excellent fantasy authors, I’ve really got to start adding Shannon Hale to my litany (which goes something like, Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Gale Carson Levine, Patricia C. Wrede and Diana Wynne Jones, if you were wondering!)