Forest born by Shannon Hale

cover image

(The Books of Bayern). Bloomsbury, 2010. ISBN 9781408808610.
(Age 12+ ) Recommended. Fantasy. Growing up in the Forest, Rin has always found solace in the trees, until one day they seem to reject her and the calmness that they have given her disappears. She tries to be a good girl, becoming her mother's shadow and imitating her mannerisms and actions but she is very unhappy. When an opportunity comes for her to go to the City with her brother and Dasha, she takes it, hoping that she will find inner peace there. However, there is danger in this world and she finds herself with the Fire sisters, Isi, Enna and Dasha, fighting to save the kingdom from an evil people-speaker, who holds enthralled all who hear her voice.
Newbery Honor-winning author Shannon Hale has written an appealing fantasy with fairy tale overtones. Rin's ability to talk to trees is quite fascinating as is her large family and the shadow like place in it that she has selected for herself. I enjoyed following her coming of age and her gradual realisation that although she is a people-speaker who can manipulate others through her words, she can use her power for good rather than evil. Her development from a shy young girl who imitates others to a strong young woman who helps to save the Kingdom is fascinating. Hale sends a strong message to young girls to be careful of the people-speaker who can win over hearts and minds but may not be ethical.
Equally enjoyable are the action packed scenes as the group of young women travel in their quest to find who is terrorising the villages and using fire speakers to harm the people. Hale has a deft hand with dialogue and the funny comments and repartee from her brother Razo and the Fire sisters add a touch of humour to the story.
Rich in characterisation and description, Hale has created a book that has unexpected plots turns and strong friendships. This finely realised world, inhabited by resolute young women, will appeal to girls who enjoyed the Alanna series by Tamora Pierce.
Forest Born is the fourth in The Books of Bayern series, following The goose girl, Enna burning and River secrets. This was the first book that I had read in the series and found that it worked very well as a stand-alone story, with sufficient background information and character development for me to appreciate the setting and people.
Pat Pledger