Friday, September 4, 2009

Forest Born by Shannon Hale

Forest Born

Forest Born
by Shannon Hale

Hardcover: 392 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
The fourth tale in Hale's beloved Books of Bayern series.

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 bloodshed 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 will pull readers into this fantastical adventure.

(I would have described this book as: When Rin discovers her ability to influence those around her, she scares herself with her selfish, heady actions. Her normal source of comfort--the Forest--no longer welcomes her. She decides never to use her ability again and escapes to the palace with Razo in hopes of finding peace. But when someone tries to harm her brother and new friends, she must use her power even though it seems certain to corrupt and destroy her.)

Forest Born is an enjoyable YA fantasy novel. It is the fourth book in the series. I'd suggest reading the first books in the series first (because I think they're better and so they aren't spoiled for you after reading this book), but you can understand this one without having read the others.

I enjoyed the underlying humor in the book, but I was confused by why Rin was acting oddly (her reaction seemed blown out of proportion to the events because the author kept some early, critical events deliberately vague). I didn't bond with Rin in the first half because I couldn't understand her. When the author finally revealed what had happened, Rin suddenly became a sympathetic character to me because I knew what a burden she'd been struggling with. But by the time we learned this, Rin was already starting to get things under control and her transition from "struggling" to "figured it out" felt too fast even though I reminded myself it wasn't.

I understand that Rin didn't know what as happening, but I felt frustrated that the author prevented me from knowing at least as much as Rin did. I wished that the full details of the critical events had been revealed back when they occurred so that we could go through her struggle with her, cheering her the whole way.

If you, like me, don't like it when an author hides the critical reason why a character acts the way she does, I'd suggest that, when you reach the end of chapter one (which is 15 page in the ARC...the page numbers might be slightly different in the final version), turn to the full account of what happened with Wilem which starts on page 192 and read the italicized section which lasts until page 201. Then turn to read the italicized section on pages 208 to 210 (the last pages of chapter 17).

The pacing was excellent, but the world-building was only okay. This story didn't seem as deeply thought out as her previous stories. I noticed a number of details that didn't make sense to me, like Rin putting mud in her ears to protect herself from hearing someone speak in a future confrontation but needing to avoid (and somehow still hearing them in time to hide from) enemies that were searching for her at that moment.

The story was still enjoyable, and the ending was satisfying. There was no romance for Rin, but the other characters got in plenty of kissing. There was no sex and the bad language was of the "he cursed" variety. Overall, I'd recommend this book as good, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Ma had six sons. The eldest was big like his father, the middle boys were middling. By the time Razo was born, all the family's largeness must have been used up. The brothers called him runt and made him feel that word. He spent winter nights longing for a younger sibling, someone he could call runt, someone he could push and pinch.

Ma was longing too, but for a girl to share thoughts with, a daughter cut and sewn from her own soul.

When Razo was almost five, he and Ma both got their wish. The baby girl was born on a night so hot the wind panted and the summer moon blazed like the sun.

"Rinna," Ma named her.

"A girl," said the father.

"Rinna-girl," said Razo, peering over the side of the cot.

The baby blinked huge dark eyes and opened her mouth into a tiny circle. All desire to push and pinch hushed right out of Razo.

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