The Goose Girl is extrapolated from the fairytale of the same name. Overall, it does a good job of staying true to the fundamentals of the tale while creating a complex story that stands well on its own.
The basic plot is the same—a princess (Ani) travels with her handmaid (Selia) to marry a prince. The handmaid displaces the princess and takes her place, causing the princess to take on the role of tending the geese. Eventually, with the help of animals that can talk to her, the princess reveals the sabotage and takes her rightful place. The novel adds a lot of background—like a magic of speaking to animals and the elements, which is a skill that is feared and misunderstood. Many people in power, without truly realizing it, have the magic of people speaking, which helps them convince people to listen to them.
Since the novel is hundreds of pages longer than the tale, it explores many themes like parental relationships and expectations, class discrepancies, the corruption of power, and embracing your own identity.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
As the oldest, Ani is the heir. However, Ani’s mother turns this all on its head when she names Ani’s younger brother as the heir and ships Ani off to marry a foreign prince. That said, there are many powerful women in this book, many wielding varying types of power—some overt and some more subtle.
Ani tries so hard to please her mother, but she always falls short. Her mother is incapable of seeing Ani’s strengths. She often belittles her; once she slaps her across the mouth. Ani’s father was loving and supportive, but he’s killed when he falls from his horse. Ani learns that she’s been displaced as heir when her mother makes the public announcement at the king’s funeral—the queen was plotting behind her husband’s back all along. It’s not that the queen is evil, though; she’s just willing to do what it takes to powerfully rule a kingdom. She’s well loved by her people and Ani would do almost anything to please her. She also loves Ani in her way, but it’s not exactly a nurturing relationship.
The queen’s sister teaches Ani how to speak to birds—Ani is very close to her aunt. The queen wants nothing to do with her strange sister, however.
Unlike her mother who has the art of people speaking, Ani is awkward around people. In fact, Ani is told that she has never truly been the Crown Princess—she’s too weak, too awkward, too weird. Ani is much more at home among the animals and among the lower class kids she lives with when she becomes the goose girl. She has to learn to see the strength in being Ani before she can really come into her own. Both Ani and her prince must learn to step up and embrace that they are not their parents.
Selia is convinced that she’s more a princess than Ani could ever be. However, her identity reveals itself in the end as her schemes unravel.
Selia is most definitely out to kill Ani. Several of the guards are on her side, and it’s creepy as they begin to turn on Ani—they stand too close, they make threatening gestures, etc. Ani sees them kill one of other guards, and it’s a graphic sight that haunts her for a while. Ani’s horse and best friend goes insane in Selia’s hands and is slaughtered (since Ani bonded with Falada when the horse was born and she could talk with him, this is a severe blow). Several times, Ani runs through the streets as people try to kill her, and she’s stabbed a few times. The corpses of enemies are hung to rot on the city walls.
However, the violence is not without consequence. In the final fight, even the enemies are named as they fall. The good warriors prefer not to kill, although often they must. War is not a glorious thing, but something to be avoided. Even a war-crazy boy is horrified when he makes his first kill.
When Ani learns to speak to the wind, she uses it to steal the breath of an enemy. It seems legitimate at the time, but the implications of it are pretty terrifying.
Ani is nearly incapable of lying. In many ways, this is a liability. Enna is a great liar. While this isn’t exactly held up as a virtue, it definitely comes in handy.
Ani is naïve—showing some ankle when she rides a horse feels daring to her. A woman wearing tight trousers is totally shocking! The rest of the world doesn’t feel so chaste. Selia goes into the stables holding hands with a boy. Ani notes that Selia doesn’t even like to ride; most older readers will easily read between the lines. Selia’s guard is obviously enamored of her, to the point where their relationship seems more than platonic, although we never see direct evidence of this.
Enna tells a legend of the women of her country. When the men retreated in battle, the women stripped to their waists to remind the men what they were fighting for—the women told the men to go back to war to prevent their brides and the mothers of their children from being taken into enemy beds.
I really liked the character of Ani, and I was grateful that many of the characters didn’t fit into stereotypes that I expected. It’s a fairytale, but it’s primarily a story of the evils of classism, abuse of power, and war. Due to length and some of the complex issues it deals with, it’s probably best for older tweens—maybe 11 and up. Adults who like fairytales will probably enjoy it as well.
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
Published in 2003 by Bloomsbury
There are other books that take place in Bayern, but they aren’t exactly sequels, nor are they fairytale retellings.
Borrowed from BooksFree