There is nothing I love quite so much as reading a fairy tale, and when I have the itch I most often turn to Robin McKinley. Her re-tellings of famous fairy tales are some of the most beautiful works of art I’ve ever read, so laced with magic and trimmed with elegant detail that I am at times overwhelmed by the dullness of my reality when I emerge from her pages.
Rose Daughter, her second re-imagining of the story of Beauty and the Beast, is no exception to this. Pegasus, which I reviewed a few months ago, was a disaster, and should in no way be taken as a standard for what her writing is. Please, when trying to decide whether or not to read her work, use this blog as a reference instead. And don’t read Pegasus.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0441005837&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrRose Daughter resembles a dream sequence. Of course there is character and plot, but time and place are seemingly intangible. Each of the three sisters have names that describe overtly what their personality is like–Beauty is beautiful, Lionheart is brave and strong, and Jeweltongue is clever. In fact, all of the characters in the book are named literally: Whitehand, Trueword, etc. It was one of the things I really enjoyed about the novel. They were not clever, witty, or made-up names, and because of this they helped me get a feel for the characters, and they added a little certainty to a novel whose reality was constantly shifting and convolving.
After the death of her mother, Beauty’s wealthy, merchant father sinks deeper and deeper into despair, and as a result his business suffers and eventually fails. The family loses everything they have to auction houses and debt collectors, but are rescued from living on the streets by a long-forgotten letter, informing them that a cottage in a faraway village has been left to them by an unknown relative. The family of four moves to Rose Cottage, where Beauty, with her natural gardening ability, coaxes the dormant rose vines that cover the house back into life. They live in peace and happiness until their father is called away on business and becomes trapped in an enchanted snowstorm. He is forced to take shelter in a mysterious palace, wherein lives Beast. For stealing one of Beast’s last roses, Beauty’s father is bound by oath to send his daughter to the palace to revive Beast’s dying rose garden. Here, Beauty overcomes her fears of Beast, of the world, of a mysterious curse, and of herself and finds love where she never imagined it could grow.
We all know the story, but this is Beauty and the Beast as you’ve never read it before. First of all, as I mentioned, it is very dream-like. Beast’s palace is enchanted, and does not have a set floor plan. Its rooms, hallways, entrances and exits, buildings, and even furniture, wall decor, and embellishments change on a daily basis. It also delivers just about anything a resident asks for. Clothes, warm bath water, and food appear of their own accord. Animals are absent from the palace, with the exception of one cat named Fourpaws, who keeps Beast company and acts as Beauty’s guide.
The relationship formed by Beauty and Beast is exactly what you would hope for in a fairy tale. It is tender and shy, fearful and disbelieving at first, and then grows in strength until both are willing and able to defy time, space, malicious supernatural forces, and death itself. It’s the kind of romance that makes you gag and melt at the same time.
The only (only) thing about this novel that was frustrating is that it is very easy to lose your place in it. Because everything is constantly shifting, the reader has to keep their brain immersed in the story at all times–no day dreaming allowed. Sometimes I found myself reading about Beauty in an orchard, drifting off for half a page, and coming back to the text a finding Beauty on the roof. Still, if you can wrap your mind around all the time- and space-bending that goes on, it’s a definite winner. It’s full of sorrow and joy, both emotions conveyed in an extremely poignant and stunning way. They invade every single word of the text. McKinley is a master storyteller, and I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of the genre.