Everyone thinks of Rin as her mother’s shadow. She belongs to a large extended family that all live near each other in the forest and, until recently, Rin has always been her hard-working mother’s helper. She cooks, cleans, fetches the water, helps take care of all the kids, etc. When she needs a little peace, she communes with the trees of the forest. She doesn’t really “speak” with them, but just feels their love and the constant harmony they provide.
But then Rin did something bad and the trees have withdrawn their love. She feels their disappointment and disgust with her. Now Rin feels unworthy and unloved and begins to sink into depression. In an attempt to help, her big brother Razo invites her to join him and his new wife at the Bayern court. There she meets Queen Isi and admires her strength and confidence. As Rin tries to find her place at court, she manages to tag along on a quest to rid Bayern of terrorists and, in the process, she discovers herself and her own worth.
Forest Born is the fourth and final (so far) novel in Shannon Hale’s BOOKS OF BAYERN. You really don’t need to have read the previous books, but I’d recommend at least reading the first book, The Goose Girl, before Forest Born. There you’ll get a feel for Hale’s world and meet most of this story’s main characters: Queen Isi, King Geric, Enna the Fire Mage, and Razo (Rin’s big brother). Also, I think The Goose Girl is the best book in the series, so you don’t want to miss it, and it makes sense to read it first.
Each of the BAYERN stories is essentially a coming-of-age tale in which a young person (Isi in The Goose Girl, Enna in Enna Burning, Razo in River Secrets and now Rin in Forest Born) struggles with their identity and self-worth. At first, in Forest Born, I thought Rin was having a big pity party and I was annoyed with her constant whining about how bad she is and feeling sorry for herself all the time. It wasn’t until half way through the book that the truth came out and we really understand why Rin feels the way she does. The revelation puts a whole new spin on the story and I think I would have liked it better, or at least sympathized more with Rin, if I had had this information from the beginning. I’m not really sure why Hale chose to keep it a secret, but since she did, I will, too.
The plot of Forest Born moves quickly and is fairly exciting. There are some scary parts, too. Fans of the series will enjoy the banter between their favorite characters and will be happy to see how they’ve grown to be so competent. Isi is strong and couragous, Razo is charming and funny, and Enna is sarcastic and aggressive. Rin doesn’t have enough confidence or sense of self to have much personality at all. For most of the story she’s unsure how to act and is always looking to others for cues and ideas for shaping her own responses. She’s not yet ready to be herself because she doesn’t like herself and she has no idea who she is. By the end, of course, she has worked through some of these troubles and is on her way to “finding” herself. I think it’s an important topic for the target audience (probably mostly pre-teen and adolescent girls) to ponder and I like the strong female role models that Hale provides. (Although occasionally they do stupid things like bring the toddler prince on their trip to confront terrorists.)
The audio version by Full Cast Audio is nicely done. It’s slightly confusing that so many of the names sound similar: Rin, Finn, Brin, Enna. I figured that Shannon Hale just had a liking for the “in” sound and hadn’t noticed that so many of her characters had rhyming names, but late in the book Razo actually mentions it! I thought that was funny.
Forest Born would be a good choice for any girl, but especially those who struggle with their confidence and sense of self-worth.