I've already reviewed The Goose Girl on here, so I'm going to give over the discussion to what drew me in and kept me going in this reread.
First of all, it took me days to get through part one. The first eighty-two pages are not bad. They're just quite slow and the rest of the book is so much better. It's good, it sets up the story and builds the world. Part one introduces the old stories of the types of speaking and shows Ani learning bird language. We get to enjoy Hale's wonderful prose, lushly painting this world for us. The forest scenes in particular are beautiful. We also get to know Ani before she undergoes all her character development. But the beginning just isn't exciting, not until the very end.
The most satisfying thing about this book is watching Ani grow to be able to earn her happy ending. She starts out as a rather boring, spineless doormat. Not a character who you hate, but she's also not someone you root for right from the get-go. You're lukewarm towards her for a while, her situation, not her character, keeping you interested. But that's the point, because that's who she is until she finds herself having to take charge of her life. Ani starts out really awkward, and we get to read the natural evolution of her character as she has to fend for herself, learn the dignity of work, becomes able to trust others again, and falls in love. And what I love about the end is that she is not inspired to take action for herself, for her own personal happily ever after, but because she knows that, whatever the personal risk, she has to prevent war from breaking out.
The culture of Bayern is well-developed. This isn't a bland fairy tale kingdom. We see traditions and festivals and get a feel for internal politics when it comes to the relations between the city and the Forest folk. The characters besides Ani are fleshed out as well. Selia's behavior and motives are natural, if not in the least sympathetic. Ungolad is mysterious but not one-dimensional. All of the workers ring true as people, and the scenes with them are a lot of fun. And Geric has a distinct personality that shows through, even for as little relative page time as he has.
Happily enough I picked up Enna Burning, the next book in the series, when I was out the other day. So, award-winning or not, I'll be reading it again soon enough. Finished On the Beach today too, so I'll review it soon, though it doesn't seem to have won any awards. I want to get a headstart on the challenge, you see. Oh well! Next up is Open a New Window: The Broadway Musical in the 1960s, an old favorite of mine.