The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale is not a tale that immediately grips you, but it gently draws you in, like sweet tea. It is, surprisingly, dark chocolate and possibly the most whimsical I’ve ever encountered.
The characters are well-developed and believable. What makes the book so realistic is the tragic element. People die, are severely injured, fight and kill men. It’s real.
Ani, the princess and main character, is an awkward girl. Her lady-in-waiting, Selia, is much more assured and can “people-speak,” which indicates that she can manipulate people through her words. Ani can’t people-speak, but she speak to animals and, as she finds out later, to the wind.
Selia betrays her and impersonates her on their way to Baeyern, where Ani was to become the prince’s betrothed. Ani and her guard are supposed to be dead and she loses her beloved horse, Falada. Say that out loud. Isn’t is a magnificent name?
Ani’s injured in the forest and is found and nursed back to health. Eventually she is taken to the city and becomes the king’s goose girl, renaming herself “Isi”. She meets Enna and Gavin and finds that she isn’t bad at people-relationships as she thought. Gavin starts a romance with her only to end it abruptly with a note, stating that he “could never love you as a man loves a woman.” The book continues as she tries to find out how to reclaim her title and her name.
The book is delightful and heartbreaking. It stick to the original story of the goose girl, but gives the heroine spirit and the prince an edge of wit.
I listened to via Audible and it was done as a reader’s theater. The music and voices were perfect.
Shannon Hale wrote three more books in the series, but my understanding is that she just builds off of the world she’s already created and doesn’t link them to other fairy tales. I’m hesitant to read them if they aren’t as beautiful as this one is.