fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsRiver Secrets by Shannon Hale children's fantasy audiobook reviews River Secrets by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale writes excellent children’s fantasy. River Secrets is the third book in her BAYERN series. It follows The Goose Girl and Enna Burning and focuses on one of readers’ (and the author’s) favorite characters from these books, Razo of the forest.

In the previous books, Razo’s friend Isi, who has wind magic, became queen of Bayern and his friend Enna, who has fire magic, helped Bayern win a battle with Tira. Now Bayern and Tira are swapping ambassadors and opening diplomatic relations. The people of Bayern are not popular in Tira because of what Enna, the fire mage, did to their army. Enna isn’t happy about her role in the battle, either, so she asks to go to Tira with the ambassador, hoping to redeem herself by doing something constructive instead of destructive with her magic.

For some unknown reason Razo has been chosen by the captain of the Bayern guard to accompany the Bayern ambassador to Tira. This is surprising because Razo feels like he’s only at court with Isi and Enna because he’s their friend. He doesn’t feel like he has any sort of skills or smarts that make him worthy on his own. Razo is kind of short, he has no magic, and he’s not a great fighter, so his self-esteem is a little low when he compares himself to his accomplished friends. He has no idea what he can do to help his country.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWhen Razo, Enna, and the ambassador get to Tira, they encounter an entirely new culture. While Razo is trying to find his place in Tira, bad things start happening. Burned bodies are showing up around the capitol city, making it look like the Bayern fire mage is terrorizing Tiran citizens again. (They don’t know that Enna is the fire mage.) The daughter of the Tiran ambassador is obviously keeping secrets. Razo is worried about both of these things because he’s not sure that his friend Enna isn’t the one burning bodies and he has a bit of a crush on the Tiran ambassador’s daughter. Razo will try to solve the mysteries and solidify the peace before the Tiran people kill the Bayern ambassador and her entourage. In doing so, Razo may discover that he has his own particular talents and skills.

Anyone who liked the previous BAYERN books will almost certainly enjoy this one, too. Razo’s a likeable boy with a nice personality, a good heart, and a pleasing sense of humor. He cares for friends and strangers alike. It’s hard to imagine that young readers won’t be drawn to him. He’s also easier to relate to than Isi and Enna because he has no magical powers. In River Secrets we see him start a new clothing trend, become friends with a prince, navigate a royal court, confront terrorists, and deal with his own personal grief and doubts. Razo develops both physically and personally in this novel.

I liked River Secrets a lot better than I liked Enna Burning but not quite as much as I liked The Goose Girl. I thought Enna Burning was too dark and disturbing for a children’s story. Some of that same darkness is in River Secrets, but it works better here because Enna is not the main character, and because she’s trying to control her desire to burn by channeling it in appropriate directions. You could read River Secrets without reading The Goose Girl and Enna Burning first, but you would be missing some of the history.

The audio version of River Secrets is 7.5 hours long and narrated by a full cast. One or two of the narrators feel stilted at times, but most of them do a great job. I recommend this Full Cast Audio production.

The Bayern Books — (2003-2009) Young adult. Publisher: She was born with her eyes closed and a word on her tongue, a word she could not taste. Her name was Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she spent the first years of her life listening to her aunt’s stories and learning the language of the birds, especially the swans. And when she was older, she watched as a colt was born, and she heard the first word on his tongue, his name, Falada. From the Grimm’s fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she could become queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original, and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can lead the people she has made her own.

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  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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