The Goose Girl

The Goose Girl (Books of Bayern) by Shannon Hale

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, is twice stripped of her title.  The first time is shortly following her father’s death. Her mother publicly declares her younger brother Calib to be next in succession. Privately she reveals to Ani that she will not rule as planned.  Instead Anidori will be sent to Bayern to marry a prince, a diplomatic move intended to prevent a war.  Deep in the forests between Kildenree and Bayern, Ani loses her title once again. This time she is betrayed by her lady-in-waiting.  Selia, backed by a core of traitorous guards, massacres those in the company loyal to Princess Ani.  Though luck, Anidori escapes into the forest but Selia has put a sinister plan in motion. She will ride to Bayern posing as the princess and take Ani’s place as the prince’s bride.  With nothing left and nowhere to go, former Crown Princess Anidori-Kiladra is fortunate to get a position tending the King of Bayern’s geese.  Missing the only identity she’s ever known, Ani must figure out who she is and how she will expose Selia for a fraud.

This is the first book in Hale’s Books of Bayern series which includes Enna Burning, River Secrets and Forest Born.  I love the whole series, although I think the first two are the strongest.  Hale writes strong heroines which I always enjoy.  However, it’s Hale’s way of somehow making her stories seem full of old-fashioned fairy tale magic that really makes them special.

Age Recommendation: With the amount of violence and sexual undertones, I’d probably recommend this for students above Grade 5, with some parental discretion at Grade 4.  It’s definitely intended for an older audience than Princess Academy.

The vocabulary in this book is difficult: presumption, retinue, gelding, inquire, dignitaries, mendicants, succor, wrathful, inevitable, berating, passivity, vigilant, condescension, squander, mercenaries, tetchy, surreptitiously, din, pungent, languid, coerced, fatuous, mortified, puissantness, imbecile and castigation are among the words that stood out to me.

Great for: Bonus points for a strong female heroine, as well as starting a a great series.  Young readers love the familiarity of a series and often will continue once they’ve found something they like, so I’m always in favor of well-written ones.  Although Hale’s brand of princess-fantasy is different from Gail Carson Levine’s, I do believe that there will be overlap in their audiences.

Sex, Nudity, Dating –  Birth, sex and violence are all interwoven in this book.  While there isn’t too much overtly sexual, there are sexual undertones in certain parts that concern me.  There are wet nurses, and we hear of babies being held to the breast.  A girl holds hands with a man.  A horse’s birth is described. Ani’s marriage is arranged to the son of a king.  Ani worries about stories she’s heard where naive young girls marry murderous men.  While threatening her, a man asks Ani if she likes that he’s a man.  There is a story of a woman who nurses her child on one breast of blood and one of milk.  A man removes his shirt.  A boy is teased about a girl and told repeatedly to give her a kiss. A girl’s leg and undergarment are exposed to a man.  A man tells a woman that he can’t love her as a man loves a woman. Ani admits she is lovesick.
Profanity – “shut up,”
Death, Violence and Gore –  A maid worries that Ani will fall in the pond and drown and her face will turn purple.  The queen smacks her daughter.  A beloved relative dies. Ani watches a parent die.  Wolves are shot by arrows.  A mother cuts her wrist and washes her daughter in her blood to remove a curse.  There are many killed, and their sword wounds described. Swords are bloodied, men are stabbed from behind, run through with swords.  There are fears that throats will be slit and threats that throats will be slit.  Corpses hang on the city walls, smelling of sour meat and fresh blood.  Ani is worried she’ll be run through and her body will be left for beasts to devour.  A wall is stained with the blood of the dead.  A beloved horse is killed, butchered and displayed.   A javelin dance is a rite of passage. Men and boys still dance if pierced, some are killed.  Ani threatens the traitors that her mother will hang them and dogs will nibble their feet and birds pluck out their hair.  Characters are stabbed, held hostage at knifepoint, punched, threatened.  A man threatens to bite off Ani’s finger.  A man is killed with a quarterstaff.  A woman is assaulted with a pole.  A man is stabbed through the heart. A man asks to gut someone.  A suggested punishment is that someone be placed naked in a barrel of nails and dragged through the street by four horses. Weapons break skin, crack bones. A room is filled with lifeless bodies.  A man is wounded and sticks his hand in the hole created and brings out his fingers covered in blood.  A war is planned and armies readied. A story is told about men returning from war after being defeated and their women stripping to the waist, exposing their breasts. The women then tell the men to see them as they did when they first touched them in the marriage bed; to see them as they did as they suckled their children and to see them as the enemy would see them when they took them to their beds and their bastard children.
Frightening or Intense Things – The princess is almost constantly in danger.  Most of the scary parts are clearly outlined in the violence section above.

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One Response to The Goose Girl

  1. PLW says:

    How bloodthirsty! Great vocabulary- perfect for the SAT!

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