Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

River Secrets

River Secrets

Shannon Hale
Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Bloomsbury Books, 2008   ISBN: 978-1599902937

It has been only a matter of months since the war between Bayern and Tira was brought to a close. Many of the people in both countries are still angry, and some are even calling for more war. The king and queen of Bayern, and the prince and assembly of Tira have agreed that they will exchange ambassadors in an effort to improve the relationship between their two countries. The King of Bayern has decided to send his cousin to the Tiran capital to serve as his ambassador. Enna, Finn, and other members of Bayern's Own, and Razo, have also been chosen to go.

Razo cannot figure out why his captain, Talone, chose him. He has no gifts, that he knows of, to offer the mission and in fact has a habit of getting injured every time he tries to do something of consequence. Unlike Enna, he cannot summon fire or wind, and he is not strong like Finn, or a master grappler like Conrad. What does he, Razo the small, have to offer?

It is only when they get to the Tiran capital, Ingridan, that Razo finds out what Talone wants of him. Talone knows that many Tirans will be angry to have people from Bayern in their city. He expects trouble and he wants Razo, who is so observant and good with people, to be his spy and to try to anticipate threats before it is too late.

In actual fact Razo has more than angry Tirans to worry about. Someone is going around burning people and is laying their corpses near the places where the Bayern are staying and spending their time. Clearly someone wants to stir up trouble and to make the Tirans think that a Bayern fire witch is on the loose. At first Razo does worry that Enna, the real Bayern fire speaker, might be responsible, but she is soon able to convince him that she is not to blame. Then who is? Is this the work of a fire speaker or not? Are Tiran extremists behind the burnings, or is another group guilty of the crimes?

So far in her stories about Bayern, Shannon Hale has focused on characters with fantastical powers, powers which allow them to do extraordinary things. In this third Bayern tale, the author's hero is a very ordinary person. Razo cannot manipulate water, wind, or fire. He is not tall, strong and powerful. In fact he is small and prone to having accidents. But he is smart, and he has sharp eyes. He is also very good at making friends and getting people to talk. He has the kind of gifts we ordinary people are capable of, and because of this we can easily identify with him and appreciate his position. He is almost instantly likable, and throughout the story we cannot help hoping that this member of Bayern's Own will get to show the world how good he is at what he does well.

Written with great skill, and carefully crafted to keep the reader guessing to the last minute, this wonderful story not only celebrates the ordinary hero, but it also ties up a few loose ends left over from the second book in this series, Enna Burning. All in all this is a thoroughly delightful and satisfying read.