My first exposure to this particular fairy tale was only a few months ago, when I was reading Troll’s-Eye View – a collection of short stories told from the villains’ points of view. The Goose Girl tells the story from a more traditional perspective, but with plenty of personality anyway.
Ani never fit in as a princess. Even as a baby, she was odd; only her aunt, herself an outsider, could make sense of her. Confident and comfortable when talking to swans and other birds—her aunt had taught her their language—she is nearly paralyzed with anxiety when interacting with most humans. However, she respects her position as Crown Princess and, with a lady in waiting who is much more skilled with people than she is, she watches and studies her mother and governance. But then she’s packed off to the neighboring country, separated from her own by mountains and woods that few pass, to be married off to a prince she knows nothing about. In true fairy tale form, a betrayal and reversal occur, sending the lady in waiting to the palace and the princess to the goose pasture.
Anyone familiar with fairy tales can predict the overall story arc fairly early in the novel, even if they have limited exposure to this particular story. It’s Ani who makes it special. The early descriptions of her panic in the face of socialization are a painfully accurate portrait of anxiety. Her disillusionment, as she realizes that her status does not guarantee her loyalty from everyone, paves the way for her evolution over the rest of the book: becoming comfortable in her skin for the first time, making friends for the first time, learning to trust again—this time not blind trust based on class, but earned trust based on shared experiences and friendship—and even learning how to lead.
The world Hale created is rich and interesting, with plenty of unplumbed depth. Unplumbed in this book, anyway; she has since written three more books (Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Forest Born) set in the same world. Likewise, the supporting characters have personalities of their own, which I look forward to exploring in Hale’s later books.