Another one knocked off the TBR pile! My wife read this and recommended it to me ages ago. We loved reading aloud The Princess Academy to our daughter some time ago and she (My Lovely Bride) went off and read more Shannon Hale. This was her favorite and I’ve been meaning to get to it ever since.
“The Goose Girl” is an old Brothers Grimm tale. Basically a princess is betrothed to a prince in a neighboring land and is sent with her servant girl on the long journey to the wedding. On the way the servant girl forces the princess to switch places with her and presents herself as the real princess upon arrival. The princess must herd geese for the kingdom until she can find a way to prove to the king her real identity.
Hale takes this tale and fills it out into a proper novel. She keeps all the elements, but adds a rich vein of the ethics of court justice. The princess hiding out as the Goose Girl is witness to the treatment of the poor, the “forest folk” and prisoners; treatment that the members of the court are unaware of. She befriends many from various strata of society so we know that when she becomes princess again she will bring better justice and ethical treatment to her new kingdom which she has come to love.
Hale also adds a Shakespearean element of mistaken identity to the proceedings but I won’t tell you too much about that. The less you know the more interesting the ending is. It’s not a huge surprise or anything but Hale plays with the expectations so I don’t want to give anything away.
Hale also does a good job of putting in all the magical elements but still grounding everything in a gritty realism that at least explains why everyone does what they do. Why doesn’t the princess just tell people about the impostor? Most of her guards have been murdered by those loyal to the servant and she’s been stripped of all clothing and jewelry that would serve as evidence. The land she hails from is far enough away both physically and culturally that travel is difficult and little is known of the real princess. How is this servant able to realistically pose as royalty? Just as the princess has the gift of “animal speaking” and can communicate with some of the creatures in the story, the impostor has the gift of “people speaking” making her much more convincing with her plot. She’s like a Slytherin or a Lannister; someone you’ll enjoy hating.
It’s a very well written novel and one of the best fairy tale variation stories I’ve encountered. I liked The Princess Academy but enjoyed this even more. I’ve heard the sequels are good but of course not as good as the original. But it’s nice to know that if I recommend it, there’s a whole series to delight the potential reader.