"Some have the gift of people-speaking. Others have the gift of talking to animals. And the final gift is the language of wind and fire." Crown Princess Ani's aunt has no idea that Ani, a royal in the mystical land of Kildrea, possesses two of these three gifts. Her talents in language will help her along and save her life on countless occasions. When she is arranged to marry the prince of blahblah, treachery and traitors will disturb Ani's previously tranquil life... as a result, instead of being recognized as Crown Princess Anidori Kaliadra blah, she will become known as Isi the goose girl.
Ani begins life with two devastating losses: that of her wise aunt and her father, the kind king. The queen, however, keeps a considerable distance from her daughter, and for that Ani is glad, because she comes to realize that her mother has the syrupy sly gift of people-speaking. The queen is terribly afraid that her kingdom will view Ani as bizarre because Ani is convinced that she can talk to animals. But all of this is put aside; for soon Ani finds she is to be married to the prince of the neighboring land in order to link the two kingdoms, and she is sent on a tiresome and dangerous journey. Only Selia, her lady-in-waiting (a possessor of the dangerous gift of people-speaking), Falada, her beloved horse (whom she can speak with), and a group of servants (some honorable, others murderous) are her companions.
Before Ani's journey is over, a mutinous attack proves deadly for most of Ani's supporters... and Ani barely escapes unscathed. Now Ani is only royal by blood and title-- not by recognition. Clueless as to where Falada is, Ani wanders fearfully for many days and finally comes to the kingdom she had been headed for: the prince of which she is -- or was -- betrothed to. Ani's life is in grave peril, now that someone else has claimed the name 'Yellow Lady' and the title 'Crown Princess.' Still, Ani's days are not completely filled with terror. Ani (but now, as a mode of protection, she has changed her name to Isi) finds work as a goose girl for the king, befriends her fellow workers, and falls in love with a guard called Geric. But a heart-stoppingly terrifying event sweeps her good spirits under the rug, and Ani must use her abilities with languages to save herself and her geese.
To add to her troubles, Geric stops visiting Ani, leaving a mysterious note that only sketchily explains his absence. Soon, Ani uncovers secrets about Geric that can only be described as a cruel twist of irony. Miserable, scared and seemingly alone, Ani grows close to hysteria. Yet the astonishing finish proves that there is only one true Yellow Lady worthy of the throne.
In the first book of the series, Shannon Hale delivers a stunningly strong story that thrives on its characters: some gallantly brave, others evilly sinister, and all brilliantly clever. Hale's novel whisks the reader away to a land of castles, crowns, and magical language. The Goose Girl is an wondrous adventure -- the suspense and action of which rises throughout the story and never falls.
Review by A.