Author: Shannon Hale
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pub Date: September 2006, Bloomsbury USA
Source: Received as a gift
Synopsis (from back cover)
Razo flipped around. No one there but a dead body. He could hear his own breathing. Think, Razo told himself. You're here, so be useful.
Razo has never been anything but ordinary. He's not very fast or tall or strong, so when he's invited to join an elite mission escorting the ambassador into Tira, Bayern's great enemy he's sure it's only out of pity. But as Razo finds potential allies among the Tiran, including the beautiful Lady Dasha, he realizes it may be up to him to stop a murderer and get the Bayern army safely home again.
While I enjoyed keeping up with Hale's world of Bayern in River Secrets, it was my least favorite of The Books of Bayern, so far. It took me longer to get interested in the story -- perhaps I prefer Hale's female leads or maybe Razo just wasn't a particularly likable male lead. I also felt the plot was a little weaker this time around, which I think caused the book to move a little bit slower. Without giving too much away, I rather wonder if the book had focused on Lady Dasha instead if it wouldn't have been a better story that could have seen more action and intrigue, given what we eventually learn about her. Perhaps Hale felt that not every main character should be a girl, but I wonder if she doesn't write a better story when her lead is a female.
Don't get me wrong, Razo is a nice kid, but boy does he lack self-confidence. He is self-pitying and puts himself down to others almost constantly, and frankly, that got annoying. I get that he is far from perfect, but it is like Hale took to blowing his flaws out of proportion for this story. In the last book, Razo's role as a scout did have a good bit of importance and it was obvious that his captain thought highly of those skills, so to say that he was practically worthless this time around felt a little forced and insincere. We do finally learn of some other valuable skills that Razo has, but that they would have gone unknown for this long seems unlikely.
It's funny, as I write this review and think back to all of these things that bothered me, I realize that while I was all set to give this book a four-star rating despite its flaws, I'm not sure it really deserves more than three stars. I still think it is a worthy read to keep up with this series, but it really lacks the power of the first two books. These are supposed to be fantasy stories, and by focusing on such an ordinary character in River Secrets, Hale has kept the reader from truly escaping into her world of Bayern. The story does finally pick up in the last third of the book, but that ultimately didn't make up for how long it took me to get to that point. Once you reach that last part of the book, you will understand why I think it would have been a better story had it focused on Lady Dasha.
Perhaps if I re-read this series down the road again sometime, I will feel differently. But given that I have had the luxury of reading all of these books back-to-back, I don't really think my opinion would change too much. As I already mentioned, I do think it is worth your time to read River Secrets to keep up with the series and events in Bayern -- at least, it is as of now. I have not yet begun Forest Born, so I can't say how the series concludes, but I do find it promising that the cover shows a girl -- Razo's sister Rin, in fact.