Shannon Hale is the writer of Newbery books such as Princess Academy, a book which I loved (and for which the sequel was also pretty fantastic) and which was much less intense than this book was. The Goose Girl was Hale’s first book, but you’d never know it.
In The Goose Girl, Ani is Crown Princess of a kingdom she never wanted to rule. Ani has the power to learn animal languages, a skill which is looked upon with apprehension, but her mother and lady-in-waiting have the skill of people speaking, and Ani feels forced into doing whatever they say. When Ani’s father dies, her mother sends her to marry the prince of Bayern, the neighboring country, and Ani reluctantly gives up her title and her home to marry someone she has never met. Along the way, Ani is betrayed, and she must flee through the woods of Bayern and become a goose girl, using her talents to keep the birds in line. Ani is constantly looking for a way to throw out the imposter and regain her rightful place as royalty, but she finds herself more and more drawn to the simple life she leads and the rough people she works with.
One thing I loved about this book is that Ani’s transition from royalty to outdoor worker is not smooth. She takes things for granted; she is soft. She assumes rights that are not hers, simply because she is used to being waited on hand and foot. I always find it a little irritating when cast-out royalty automatically knows how to cook, clean, and do hard work without any training. Like, you’re rich, famous, beautiful, and have a title; you’ve never done a day of work in your life. How are you perfect at that, too??
Ani’s struggles are real, and her battle to get back to her rightful place is painful to read. There is violence, fear, and death, and Ani has to find her own way, with no strong-willed person to tell her what to do. This book reminded me of Ella Enchanted, but with a darker edge. It was hard for me to classify–it’s just barely too simplistic to be labelled adult fiction, but some of the events which occur are so dark that I wasn’t sure I could be reading a YA fairy tale adaptation.
If you’re a fan of Shannon Hale, you need to check out her first book. It’s the first of a trilogy, but it works well as a stand alone, too. I’m still debating if I want to finish the series, but I did enjoy The Goose Girl.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good