Genre: MG/YA Fantasy
# of pages: 317 pages (Bloomsbury pb)
Amelia's Age-Level Suggestion: 11/12< (6th grade up)
At this moment, I'm still debating whether I like this book better than The Goose Girl ... I certainly love them both, but I'm thinking that I might like this one a little bit more. The Goose Girl was mostly a fairytale retelling; this book is a continuation of Bayern, but it does not revolve around a specific fairytale, and I think that enabled Shannon Hale to write with more artistic and creative freedom. Yes, this is still a "fairytale" book: as in, characters are complex and well-rounded, but not vice-like as you may find in "grown up fiction" or a lot of other YA-books out there. So once again, if you wrinkle your nose at love stories or happy endings, go find something else, because you may not like this story.
Have we rooted out all the anti-happy people? Okay, good, on with the review! So there's a whole lot of what I would call "natural magic" in this series: powers of wind, fire, water, etc., and the ability to communicate with them. The main character of The Goose Girl, Ani/Isi, switches out with Enna, who becomes the main (and titular) character in this story. Central to the plot is Enna's firespeaking ability, a gift/curse that threatens to destroy her if she cannot learn to master it. I really thought that was such an interesting premise, and one that has an obvious theme we readers can take away and apply to our own lives. There are actually many themes that are so easily spotted in Shannon's writing, and I think that is one of the many things I admire about her. She's not one of these authors who spends the whole book trying to point a finger at some societal issue, and she never goes "after school special" either; instead, her story and characters reinforce themes: messages we as the readers can take away and apply to our own lives.
And yes, I agree with other reviews: this book is "darker" than the first one. Enna has an urge to burn. The fire has a life of its own, and it starts to feed off of Enna's life (reminds me very much of the Ring!!!! Remember how the Ring had seemed to be "alive"? Remember how the Ring "wanted to be found"?!?! It's just like that!) The story was intense, in my opinion, but not inappropriate. I'll expand on that later. But one thing I want to ask all the criticizers: have you ever heard of siege warfare? Well, thoughout history (as in, REAL LIFE: not the stuff of fairytales) armies used fire at their enemies: fireballs, flamethrowers, Greek fire, lighted arrows... In other words, people got set on fire in real life...that is not something Shannon Hale just thought up. But I mean, from some of these reviews you'd mistake Enna for Bellatrix Lestrange! She's not particularly happy about setting people on fire... it stinks and everything, but yes, that happens. It's not presented in a graphic way: if anything, it's presented in a blunt, dull way. I kept thinking, "umm, these people are on fire, why is she not *screaming*?" But anyway... Okay and Sileph... wow. I have to admit, I really didnt think he'd be Book #2's "Designated Bad Guy." Yeah, he has one those cocky personalities, and he's a bit on the manipulative side, but I kept waiting for him to redeem himself, somehow... but then...well, I wont say anything. I just didnt expect him to actually be bad. So that was a shocker. Oh, back to why Shannon Hale is Not Inappropriate: she's pretty much the only author I can think of who can take an otherwise provacative situation and make it perfectly tame. Here's a scenario: a girl and a guy sleeping next to each other in a tent. And. Nothing. Happens. At. All. I just want to fax her scenes to some of these other YA authors out there, goodness gracious! Parents, Shannon Hale does not need to be on your Hit List. She's okay. And when two characters who are *actually* in love with each other camp together at night, nothing happens either. Don't you just love that? Nice, sweet romances with no content issues. In fact, the only content issues in this book relate to scenes of war. I didnt find them that disturbing, actually, but in my opinion this should probably be a Middle School and Older series (YA). But I found book so much harder to put down than the first one...and I really loved the first one, too :D I like the conflict in this book: Enna's a great character: strong and spunky, yet still human enough to need others. And I loved the struggles she endured: she was relatable and human, but never self-pitying.
Final Rating: 5/5. I said I liked it as much as The Goose Girl, so I think I have to give it a 5!
Go read the Books of Bayern - they're great!