In last month’s blog post, I featured the first two novels in Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern series. This month, I’m honing in on the other two volumes: River Secrets and Forest Born.
Shannon Hale is one of my favorite contemporary authors. Her Newberry Honor-winning Princess Academy is a literary gem for middle-grade readers, and her adult novel Book of a Thousand Days leapt right into my top-10 list of favorite fantasies. However, it wasn’t until this past year, while researching comparable titles to my own novel, that I “discovered” Hale’s young-adult Books of Bayern.
As I’ve read through the series, I’ve been impressed by the distinctive flavor of each novel. Each tale is seen through the eyes of a different protagonist, coloring the narrative with their unique point of view. At the same time, Hale continues to weave in favorite characters from earlier episodes. It’s fun to see “old friends” through the eyes of new ones!
An Unlikely Hero
River Secrets is sheer FUN to read. It dashes along at a sprightly pace, mixing mystery and adventure with bold strokes of prankish humor and just a dab of romance. Its lively tone is due in large part to its protagonist, Razo, a seventeen-year-old boy who hails from the wild forests of Bayern.
We first meet Razo in The Goose Girl (Book 1), where he’s serving as a royal animal-keeper alongside his friends Enna, Finn and Isi. When Isi is revealed to be the true princess, Razo and his rag-tag Forest-born friends help restore her to the throne. In Enna Burning (Book 2), Razo and Finn enlist as soldiers in Bayern’s army, holding back an invasion from the neighboring kingdom of Tira. They’re also determined to save Enna–who has the dangerous gift of fire-speaking–from both the Tiran army and her own self.
In River Secrets, Razo becomes the chief protagonist. The kingdoms of Bayern and Tira have reached a tentative peace, and Razo must accompany Bayern’s ambassador to Tira. The coastal kingdom, with its whitewashed walls, manicured citrus trees and tiled riverbanks, is a far cry from the deep forests of Razo’s home. But he’s even more unnerved that he’s been picked for this mission at all.
Razo is the youngest of six brothers, the “runt of the litter.” He’s not terribly strong, brilliant or big. He’s famous only for his jokes and insatiable appetite. But he’s nimble, observant, and great with a sling. And he’ll stand up to anyone who tries to mess with the people he cares about.
Which is a good thing. Because someone in Tira wants them dead.
Someone is strategically placing charred Tiran bodies where they’ll look as if the Bayern emissaries are to blame. Assassination attempts erupt out of nowhere. Who could be behind it all? Razo can’t help but notice that Dasha, daughter of the Tiran ambassador to Bayern, keeps appearing near the scenes of crime. Dasha also seems to know a bit too much about Enna’s secret fire-speaking. And Razo suspects that this water-loving girl may have unusual powers of her own…
War is imminent. Time is running out. It’s up to Razo to discover the mysterious murderer…before he and his friends are trapped in Tira, and the walled citadel becomes their grave.
A Gift and a Curse
Forest Born is an intricate and satisfying conclusion to the Books of Bayern. It’s the most psychologically penetrating book of the series. As in the first three novels, Forest Born has its full share of heart-pounding mystery and adventure. But like its heroine, Rinna, Forest Born has a deep, soul-searching core. In particular, it focuses on the incredible power of words: their potential to edify or destroy.
In this final novel, the kingdom of Bayern is under attack once more. This time, the threat comes from the mysterious queen of Kel, a country to the east. The heroes of the first three books–Geric, Finn, and Razo–are engaged in a desperate fight against treacherous foes. Meanwhile, heroines Isi, Enna and Dasha–with their magical abilities of wind, fire and water–undertake a dangerous mission to confront the queen of Kel. They are joined by Razo’s younger sister Rinna, a quiet, thoughtful girl who has her own demons to overcome.
Rinna has spent all her life in the Forest, surrounded by her older brothers and their wives, her twenty-three nieces and nephews, and her beloved ma. She’s always helpful and uncomplaining. But she hides a double-edged secret.
As a young child, Rinna discovered that she could understand the voices of the trees. Their deep, peaceful thoughts have always brought her comfort. But there’s another, latent gift that Rin has buried deep, fearing its power over her and those she loves.
Now destiny has crossed her path with Isi, Enna and Dasha, forging an unlikely friendship. Rin is awed by the confidence and talent the three older girls display. Compared to their abilities, she feels she has little to offer.
But when the queen of Kel is revealed to be an old enemy, more dangerous and powerful than anyone has guessed, Rin must overcome her fear and insecurity. The lives of everyone she loves–including her brother Razo–depend upon it.
Have you read any Shannon Hale novels? Which one is your favorite?