Forest Born is the fourth book in the Books of Bayern series, after
"The Goose Girl," "Enna Burning," and "River Secrets." When I first
started Forest Born, I didn't think I was going to like it as much as
the previous books in the series, partly because of the main
character, Rin. Her brother Razo, the protagonist of the previous
book, was so much fun to read about because whatever troubles he went
through, he never let anything get him down. By contrast, at first
Rin's perspective put me off---it's normal for a fifteen-year-old girl
to be deeply insecure, but it's a drag to read about.
BUT---about halfway through the book, I started to pick up on signals
that Rin's insecurity wasn't just angst. There is a real,
plot-relevant reason for her to be in the psychological state she's
in, which is hinted at long before it's actually revealed. At about
the same time, the plot really got going, and after that I couldn't
put the book down. I did see some of the twists coming, but the
reveal of the villain caught me completely by surprise.
The magic system in the series is very well-developed, and in "Forest
Born" the author expands on a previously neglected aspect of it. Most
of the focus in the previous books was on the power of nature-speaking
(control of elements such as wind and fire), but in "Forest Born" we
get to learn more about people-speaking, which is basically charisma
and supernaturally enhanced powers of persuasion. I've always
maintained that power over what people think and believe is the most
terrifying superpower there is, and Hale explores the full potential
for abuse of this power, and the built-in temptation to use it for
I did have some quibbles (which are spoilery, so I'll put them at the
end), but all in all, this was a strong installment of a series I've
always enjoyed. It was nice to see so many familiar characters from
the previous books back again, especially Razo and Dasha, and if
there's ever a Book 5, I'll be sure to pick it up.
I don't mind that Shannon Hale brought back Selia, the (supposedly
dead) villain of the first book. I'll even grant that her motives
make sense---yes, she's out for revenge, but she also wants power,
which is consistent with her character in "The Goose Girl." But did
Selia really have to be responsible for the disasters of the second
and third books as well? The things we've actually seen her do, in
this book and the first one, are sufficiently heinous to make her a
satisfying villain, and there's no real need for her to have purposely
instigated the war with Tira. It's just a little too pat that it's
suddenly not the Tirans' fault, now that Tira and Bayern are allies.
And if she was the one behind the Tiran fire-speakers in "River
Secrets," you'd think her name would have come up.
Also: nice try, Shannon Hale, but I never believed for a second that
Razo was really dead. Or that Isi would stay dead, for that matter.
You're not the kind of author who kills off central characters. And
considering that Razo's death was reported secondhand, by a character
who's been a liar as long as we've known her, I'm surprised even the
characters believed it.