Saturday, August 1, 2009

Book Review - Shannon Hale's Forest Born

Forest Born by Shannon Hale
Published by: Bloomsbury
ARC Provided by a Friend
Publication Date: September 15th, 2009
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Preorder

"Rin is sure that something is wrong with her…something really bad. Something that is keeping her from feeling at home in the Forest homestead where she’s lived all her life. Something that is keeping her from trusting herself with anyone at all. When her brother Razo returns from the city for a visit, she accompanies him to the palace, hoping that she can find peace away from home. But war has come to Bayern again, and Rin is compelled to join the queen and her closest allies—magical girls Rin thinks of as the Fire Sisters—as they venture into the Forest toward Kel, the land where someone seems to want them all dead. Many beloved Bayern characters reappear in this story, but it is Rin’s own journey of discovering how to balance the good and the bad in herself that drives this compelling adventure."

Shannon Hale has been a very busy writer, since her last Bayern book was released in 2006. She has written two adult books, another adaptation of a fairy tale and a graphic novel. But with Forest Born she finally gives us readers what we have been waiting for, a return to Bayern. In this book we follow Rin, Razo's little sister. Her abilities are far different to any of the "fire sisters" we have seen before, which also leads to a new more free flowing, train of thought writing when we are in Rin's mind. We see all the characters we love and learn what has been happening in their lives. But I had problems with Rin as the focal point of all these intertwined lives. Rin is such a non-character, in the beginning, and she was obviously written as such. She is quite literally a shadow who eventually takes form. But it is hard to befriend a shadow. It is hard to identify with a wraith. It is hard to take a girl into your heart who you aren't sure who she is. But then again she doesn't know who she is either, and therefore your unease with her mirrors her own feelings about herself very well. I found Rin and her powers fascinating, but I think her progress could have been more rapid in parts. It takes awhile to face your demons, but sometimes narratively they should be faced faster.

The journeys contained within the book, both of body and mind lead our characters to Kel. There they do valiant deeds and Rin discovers more about herself than she originally bargained for when she followed Razo to the great city. I will not spoil anything as per the author's request, but I felt that Shannon Hale relied too much on a few cliched conventions in this book then her previous ventures. When I went to WisCon back in May I attended a panel entitled "Kick Ass Moms" wherein the authors discussed the habit of when you have a mother the cliched thing to do is to put that child in danger. Baby jeopardy is a big theme which is overused, and Shannon Hale does use this in Forest Born. She does handle it better than I was expecting, but still, I'm not sure it works as a driving plot force for a teen book. Also she uses the old trick of old enemies always return for the sequel. It felt a bit like that last scene in Bruce Campbell's film, My Name is Bruce, where they have just defeated Guan-Di, and then the sequel set-up is literally two seconds later. While the end result is great, it still felt a little worn.

But in the final analysis I loved seeing where our friends in Bayern have ended up and even if I wasn't wild about Forest Born the first read-through, it got the same rating I gave Enna Burning the first time, and I now love Enna! So Forest Born might grow on me to be a four star review, now that I know Rin more I'd be willing to give it another chance. But it is strongly recommended for all those who love the denizens of Bayern.


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