I am here today with a bit of an unusual review. When I first started blogging back in 2015, some of my first reviews were on some of my favorite novels. One of those was The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.
Fun fact, The Goose Girl is the first in a series of four books called, collectively, The Books of Bayern. Back in 2015, I read all four books but for some reason, I only reviewed that first one and the final book in the series, Forest Born. I think perhaps reading that series only overlapped slight with blogging. I started blogging that summer so I assume I read books 1-3 earlier in the year. Regardless, I recently reread the series (which is fantastic all around!) and decided to finally fill in the blanks for the two middle books in the series.
A bit of clarification and background:
- Enna Burning is book 2 and follows the story of Enna–Isi’s best friend from book 1–and her journey to master fire speaking.
- River Secrets focuses on Razo and his experiences in Tira–an enemy kingdom of Bayern–where he meets Dasha who knows water speaking.
- Both are fantastic sequels to The Goose Girl with much different tones. Enna is more intense and serious of a novel while Razo’s personality and humor shines through in book 3. I’m excited to share some of my favorite parts with y’all!
- Also, I love these reimagined covers in the same style as Book of a Thousand Days. They are so beautiful! Do I own the full series already? Yes. Do I want to own it again in this new cover line? Absolutely.
Enna Burning, according to Goodreads, “Enna and Princess Isi became fast friends in The Goose Girl, but after Isi married Prince Geric, Enna returned to the forest. Enna’s simple life changes forever when she learns to wield fire and burn anything at will. Enna is convinced that she can use her ability for good–to fight Tira, the kingdom threatening the Bayern borders–and goes on secret raids to set fire to the Tiran camps and villages.
But as the power of the fire grows stronger, she is less able to control her need to burn. In her recklessness she is captured by the Tiran army and held captive by a handsome, manipulative young captain who drugs her to keep her under his influence. Can Isi and her old friends Finn and Razo rescue her without sacrificing themselves? And with the fire still consuming her, will Enna find a way to manage the gift that threatens to destroy her?”
River Secrets, according to Goodreads, “Razo has no idea why he was chosen to be a soldier. He can barely swing a sword, and his brothers are forever wrestling him to the ground. Razo is sure it’s out of pity that his captain asks him to join an elite mission–escorting the ambassador into Tira, Bayern’s great enemy.
But when the Bayern arrive in the strange southern country, Razo discovers the first dead body. He befriends both the high and low born, people who can perhaps provide them with vital information. And Razo is the one who must embrace his own talents in order to get the Bayern soldiers home again, alive.”
One of my favorite elements in this series are the characters because they are dynamic, make mistakes, and grow in beautiful ways. Enna is the central character in book two and demands to be heard. She is stubborn, loyal, and intense. At first, she wants to win the war with Tira all by herself. She thinks her fire speaking can do that for the crown but she soon realizes that she cannot succeed alone. I love the way she and Isi balance each other out and how they both need each other. And of course, I love her developing relationship with Finn. More on relationships in a moment. Razo is the central character in book 3 and offers a very different type of main character. In fact, Razo is almost opposite to Enna in many ways. He is not sure of himself. He questions why he is on their mission to Tira at all. And he doesn’t often see his own strengths. Again, I loved seeing his journey to self discovery and the way he begins to see his own gifts.
Not only are the characters engaging in these novels, but I enjoy the changing relationships between them as well. None of these characters are flawless but they fight for their friendships and are willing to change to help each other. Enna nearly destroys her friendship with Isi because of her fire speaking but they are able to understand why later and build a stronger foundation for their friendship moving forward. Enna and Finn seem so different with her being so outspoken and him so quiet. But they both possess a quiet, intense strength and build each other up in such beautiful ways. Certainly they have ups and downs but I’m glad they find their way back to each other. Razo has a skill for creating friendships with anyone–even those less likely to interact with him. I enjoyed following his adventures in the neighboring kingdom of Tira. He makes friends with everyone from the crown prince to the pastry girls. And of course I quite enjoyed his relationship with Dasha and how they help each other discover their gifts and how to help others with them.
It takes a lot of skill to complicate the mystical elements of wind, fire, and water speaking as the novels progress but still keep them understandable; well done, Shannon Hale! I find that sometimes a series gets too complicated. The magic gets too big or the conspiracy takes over everything or it just gets to hard to explain the details. That does not happen in this series. Yes, the intricacies of speaking to these elements gets more complicated as the series goes on (each communicates in a different way and takes too much from people in a different way). But it also has focus and compelling reasons for doing so. I found the differences between speaking to wind versus to fire or water fascinating and engaging. Hale is a master storyteller and her craft is at its best in this series as she weaves an intricate story surrounding these unique languages.
I appreciate the differences in tone in these novels. It’s effective to have different tones to understand different characters. Again, Enna is very intense and passionate as an individual and you see that in her novel. The battle scenes are intense and violent. Her capture by the Tiran officer is intense and difficult. Her journey with Isi to learn about fire speak from people in a distant land is arduous and fearful. And yet, there are such beautiful moments of hope and victory that make the whole novel more positive. Razo’s novel is quite different in tone. Although there is a hidden threat seeking to restart the war and Razo finds himself in the middle of it, we see it all through Razo’s characteristic positive lens. There are more jokes, more lighthearted excursions, more simple joys. For me, all four of these novels give us tones that really fit their main characters.
I love the Books of Bayern for their intricate storytelling, fantastic characters, and engaging themes. These books teach readers about fighting for what you believe in, working hard for what you care about, building strong friendships, understanding who you are, and becoming your best self. I highly recommend all four books in this series for young readers new to fantasy series and older readers who love a great story. These books can be for everyone!
What are your favorite Shannon Hale novels?
What are your favorite fantasy novels for middle grade readers?