"FOREST BORN," by Shannon Hale, Bloomsbury, 389 pages, $17.99, (young adult)

There's a reason why Mormon author Shannon Hale's books have won so many awards. They're smart, intriguing and, most importantly, fun.

Hale's first book is also one of her most beloved. "Goose Girl" is the story of a young princess who must hide her true identity after the very people she trusts with her life try to take it away.

In the following years, "Goose Girl" was expanded to the Bayern series with "Enna Burning" and "River Secrets." Now, six years after the first book was published, Bayern's fourth installment, "Forest Born," is coming to a bookstore near you.

Isi and her friends, Enna and Dasha, have talents beyond those most could ever imagine — they can talk to the elements. As wind, fire and water speakers, they are able to call on the elements whenever danger arises, which is often.

Rin, on the other hand, has no talents. The youngest in family with six brothers and a widowed mother, she often feels invisible. But in times of uncertainty, there's one place she knows she can turn to for peace — the trees. From them, she gains a feeling of reassurance and direction and is able to return to her life as her mother's helper.

That all changes when the trees suddenly seem to reject Rin. She doesn't know what she did wrong, but there must have been something. Feeling alone and restless in a place that was once so welcoming, Rin decides to join her brother at the palace in the hopes of regaining at least some of what she's lost.

But something's not right at the palace, either. One of the queen's waiting maids acts suspiciously and a dark force is gaining power.

Setting caution to the wind, Rin joins Isi, Enna and Dasha — the fire sisters — on a dangerous journey to the kingdom of Kel, where mysterious fires have popped up.

In the course of following events, Rin is forced to take a real look at herself and the decisions she's made in the past. The process is harrowing, but through it she finds a hidden strength no one saw coming.

Hale has always had a knack for bringing out strong role models, particularly for young women, and "Forest Born" is no different. Not only does she provide a new character, Hale also builds on strong existing ones.

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Hale's talent as a storyteller continues to grow, as does her ability to connect with readers on multiple levels. In Rin, Hale has created someone with totally relatable doubts, concerns, dreams and talents.

Hale crosses the barriers of fiction creating a magical bond with her readers. She brings hope and joy to her writing without being over the top or sappy with in-your-face morals.

"Forest Born" is part of a series and should probably be read as such. Enough information is given to understand what's going on in this fourth installment, but its predecessors, all of which are in paperback, are worth reading. Understanding them gives needed depth to "Forest Born."

E-mail: jharrison@desnews.com