The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (2003)
Shannon Hale’s goose girl retelling is a classic. I haven’t read it for a long time, and it was great to revisit it.
The crown princess of Kildenree is not quite sure who she is meant to be. She doesn’t feel queenly or at home in her courtly life, there is something different about her - others would say, something strange. She has an affinity with animals and the elements, able to communicate with them, while forced to hide her ability or be punished for it. Her childhood is lonely and isolated within the castle grounds, and she has only two friends: her lady in waiting, and her beloved horse - and one of them is not the friend she thought they were.
At 16, everything changes. She is stripped of her title of crown princess - passed over in the succession for her younger brother - and sent away on a long and arduous journey to the next kingdom to make a diplomatic marriage with a prince she has never met, and knows nothing about.
The journey ends in violence and betrayal, and the princess must flee for her life, and live hidden away as a humble goose girl, until she figures out who she is, what she wants, and what she must do to gain justice.
I enjoyed the emotional journey of the princess/goose girl. She is brave, but not brash. She is sensitive and vulnerable, but does not sink into self-pity. The world is well constructed, and although the romance is predictable, it’s predictable in a nice way - I would have been very disappointed if it hadn’t ended as it did. If I had one complaint, it would be that there was a little too much stabbing going on, but I guess the bad guys have to do what bad guys do!