This is book two of the series that begins with The Goose Girl, a retelling of the fairy tale of the same name by the Brothers Grimm. I thought The Goose Girl was charming, and couldn’t wait to be with the characters again.
Enna Burning was not what I expected. Most of the focus is on Enna, a 16-year old girl who was best friends with Isi (a.k.a. Ani or “The Goose Girl”) in the first book. Now, Enna has left the capital where Isi is queen, and returned to the forest to care for her sick mother. When her mother dies in the spring, Enna becomes the mistress of the house. But she is bored, and yearns to do something of importance.
Her brother Leifer discovers an old vellum that teaches him how to harness the power of fire, but he can’t quite get the skill under control. Enna is convinced she can do better. When Isi and Enna’s kingdom of Bayern goes to war with a land-hungry territory to the south, Tira, Enna decides to use the power she learns from Leifer to make a difference. But there are so many risks: what if she loses control? What if she gets captured by the other side and is forced to use her power against Bayern? What if she gets consumed by the flames herself? All of these possibilities are real and ever-present dangers.
Discussion: This is a darker book than The Goose Girl, and not as satisfactory to me. Enna recognizes her moral dilemmas, but could exercise no power over a force as strong as fire, so after a while her angst just felt repetitive to no purpose.
On the other hand, it is very interesting to me that Hale seems to be evoking the psychological association between starting fires and sexual passion. Enna gets overtaken by the need to start fires, and apparently, whenever she does so, gets so much satisfaction and such a transformed look on her, that orgasms come to mind… [I mean, not to MY mind, needless to say….] This fits with the whole idea of fairy tales reflecting the subconscious.
There is also an intriguing side story about a Tiran warrior, whose approach to gender would be great to discuss but for spoiling.
In other words, there is actually more going on in this book than just an extension of a fairy tale.
However, in the final analysis, and in spite of a couple of provocative aspects of the story, Enna was never as interesting to me as Isi. Unlike Hale’s usual female characters – who are valorous – Enna struck me as too whiny and self-absorbed, only remembering others as an afterthought.
Nevertheless, I still enjoyed it, and will definitely pursue the third volume of the Bayern series.
Evaluation: I didn’t think this book came up to the level of Book One of the Bayern Series, The Goose Girl (see my review, here), but it’s still worth reading. You do not need to have read the first book to catch on to this one.
Published by Bloomsbury, 2004