Bayern has triumphed in its war with Tira. But though the war is over, simmering anger remains among the Tirans and new hostilities could erupt at any moment. In a desperate attempt to maintain the peace, King Geric sends an ambassador to the Tiran capitol. Of course, an ambassador needs a military guard. Razo - short, impish, and not at all skilled at combat - longs to be among those selected to go, but thinks he has no chance. So he is astounded when Captain Talone taps him to join the group. He’s even more astounded when he discovers the secret reason for Talone’s decision. All too soon Razo is up to his eyeballs in a simmering mix of danger and intrigue - not to mention an unexpected romance. But as the gruesome deaths mount, everyone is a suspect...even the girl who has stolen Razo’s heart.
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3.5 stars. Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
Shannon Hale writes excellent children’s fantasy. River Secrets is the third book in her BAYERN series. It follows The Goose Girl and Enna Burning and focuses on one of readers’ (and the author’s) favorite characters from these books, Razo of the forest.
In the previous books, Razo’s friend Isi, who has wind magic, became queen of Bayern and his friend Enna, who has fire magic, helped Bayern win a battle with Tira. Now Bayern and Tira are swapping ambassadors and opening diplomatic relations. The people of Bayern are not popular in Tira because of what Enna, the fire mage, did to their army. Enna isn’t happy about her role in the battle, either, so she asks to go to Tira with the ambassador, hoping to redeem herself by doing something constructive instead of destructive with her magic.
For some unknown reason Razo has been chosen by the captain of the Bayern guard to accompany the Bayern ambassador to Tira. This is surprising because Razo feels like he’s only at court with Isi and Enna because he’s their friend. He doesn’t feel like he has any sort of skills or smarts that make him worthy on his own. Razo is kind of short, he has no magic, and he’s not a great fighter, so his self-esteem is a little low when he compares himself to his accomplished friends. He has no idea what he can do to help his country.
When Razo, Enna, and the ambassador get to Tira, they encounter an entirely new culture. While Razo is trying to find his place in Tira, bad things start happening. Burned bodies are showing up around the capitol city, making it look like the Bayern fire mage is terrorizing Tiran citizens again. (They don’t know that Enna is the fire mage.) The daughter of the Tiran ambassador is obviously keeping secrets. Razo is worried about both of these things because he’s not sure that his friend Enna isn’t the one burning bodies and he has a bit of a crush on the Tiran ambassador’s daughter. Razo will try to solve the mysteries and solidify the peace before the Tiran people kill the Bayern ambassador and her entourage. In doing so, Razo may discover that he has his own particular talents and skills.
Anyone who liked the previous BAYERN books will almost certainly enjoy this one, too. Razo’s a likeable boy with a nice personality, a good heart, and a pleasing sense of humor. He cares for friends and strangers alike. It’s hard to imagine that young readers won’t be drawn to him. He’s also easier to relate to than Isi and Enna because he has no magical powers. In River Secrets we see him start a new clothing trend, become friends with a prince, navigate a royal court, confront terrorists, and deal with his own personal grief and doubts. Razo develops both physically and personally in this novel.
I liked River Secrets a lot better than I liked Enna Burning but not quite as much as I liked The Goose Girl. I thought Enna Burning was too dark and disturbing for a children’s story. Some of that same darkness is in River Secrets, but it works better here because Enna is not the main character, and because she’s trying to control her desire to burn by channeling it in appropriate directions. You could read River Secrets without reading The Goose Girl and Enna Burning first, but you would be missing some of the history.
The audio version of River Secrets is 7.5 hours long and narrated by a full cast. One or two of the narrators feel stilted at times, but most of them do a great job. I recommend this Full Cast Audio production.
- Katherine "I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!"
Great detective story
I really enjoyed this story in the Bayern Books. It was great to see how Razo's giftings came out and they weren't the mystical type. This book was funny and my family and I laughed out loud many times. Every time Razo realized he was good at something I was happy for him. This book reminded me a lot of the tv program "Psych." I would definitely recommend this book. Shannon Hale is a great author and the team of actors voicing the story are the same voices as the first two books. Good series and this book might be my favorite.....after "Goose Girl."