Ah, the Books of Bayern. I have always been a sucker for a good series, and this is one of my faves. The series starts with The Goose Girl, an adaptation of the Grimm’s Fairy Tale, about a young princess who, on her way to marry a prince from a foreign land, is betrayed by her handmaid, and is forced to flee and eventually become a goose girl in the palace of the kingdom where she was meant to become queen—where her handmaid is standing in her place. Throughout the story, she learns the languages of birds, her horse, and even the wind itself.
Shannon Hale then takes the idea of learning the languages of animals and nature and spins it into a whole world, expanding from the characters she first introduced in Goose Girl. My favorite of the series is Enna Burning, the second novel, which deals primarily with the language of fire, which I find utterly fascinating. The third book, River Secrets, is not my favorite, but does definitely introduce some great characters, along with letting us see a whole new land.
Forest Born is the fourth novel, and the farthest character-wise that we get from the other books—the main character is Rin, the younger sister of Razo, who was the focus of River Secrets. Rin is, as the title suggests, a Forest Born, never been to the city before, having lived her whole life in the small community of her family, deep in the forest. She’s loved the trees and the solace of the forest for as long as she can remember—but now things have changed. She feels that something is wrong inside her—she doesn’t feel at ease in the forest anymore, and the very trees that she used to turn to for comfort seem to be turning her away.
I have to admit, it took me a while to like Rin. I’d had high hopes for her, because she’d made a little appearance in River Secrets, and she was such a striking character in that, that when I was looking through her eyes, I found myself a little disappointed. She’s a character that holds back—everything. Words, demands, even requests. She’s not the easiest character to like, but I know Shannon Hale’s books well enough to know that even if I didn’t start out liking the girl, she’d turn into something fantastic—which is exactly what she did, and what the story is about, after all.
I was cheering for Rin by the end of the novel, excited for her as she learned to embrace parts of herself she was afraid of, things she was capable of that scared her. I think that’s something that’s not only relatable, but also empowering. It reminds me of the quote from Marianne Williamson. “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is out light, not our darkness that frightens us.” Rin is the embodiment of this quote, and she learns that being powerful is not always a bad thing—it depends on what you do with that power. I ended up really enjoying this book, and there was a lot of interaction with characters from the previous books. It was nice to see Rin absorbed into this sisterhood of “fire sisters” who we already knew and loved, and yet become a strong personality in her own right.
All in all, I’m going to give Forest Born a very strong B+. Slow to start, but I loved it by the end.