This was one of my favorite books as a teenager, which, looking back, seems quite dark for me to be reading at age 15. I've re-read this countless tim...moreThis was one of my favorite books as a teenager, which, looking back, seems quite dark for me to be reading at age 15. I've re-read this countless times (though not during the Goodreads Era), but to be honest, most of the time, I would start halfway through the book, and just read the parts I liked, about Lissar and Ossin and their cute hoard of giant puppies. It's like getting a sucker at the doctor's office without having to get a shot - getting the reward without the horrible pain that leads up to it. But of course, a story about only happy times, without conflict or growth, isn't a very interesting story. No one ever writes a fairy tale that goes, "Once upon a time, there was a girl, and there was a boy, and they lived happily ever after. The end." So that's not the real truth of this story.
Robin McKinley remains one of my favorite writers, who writes with vivid detail, deep emotion, and stunning creativity. The worlds she creates are remarkable in that, though they are like ours in many ways, still manage to be a little set apart, a little different. These are everyday people, but there also exist in this world things like dragons and other funny beasts, as well as magic and mystery and things that cannot be explained.
Lissar is a smart, inquisitive girl who was raised practically in solitary confinement. Her life was forever changed when her mother died, not because of a particular closeness to her mother, but because of the things that death preceded. A prince from another country sent her as a condolence gift a puppy, Ash, who would become her best friend, constant companion, life-saver, and confidant. And her father became obsessed with her (view spoiler)[in a sexual manner, lost all reason, tried to marry her, and eventually raped and almost killed her (hide spoiler)].
Much of this book is Lissar trying to escape the damage that was done to her by others, and reclaim herself as a person, both in body and mind. That's not a simple thing to do when you've suffered a significant trauma. Though Lissar owes a lot to Ash for making her fight to live, in the end, the only way Lissar can survive is with some supernatural help from the mythical (but totally real in this book) Moonwoman, who gives her both the gift of time and disguise. Not only does Lissar spend 5 years in some sort of magical coma, but the Moonwoman changes Lissar's appearance and gifts her with some of her abilities: a sense of knowing where she should go, the ability to soothe dogs and children, and the ability to find lost people and things. She ends up establishing a new sort of life, working in a kennel, becoming friends with the Prince, falling in love. The problem, though, is that Lissar finds she can't just run away from her issues, and she can't keep burying them, because eventually, they will surface. (view spoiler)[When she did eventually regain her memories, how could she tell Ossin about everything she'd been through? How could she explain what she'd been through on the mountain? How could she admit what her father had done to her? So she ran away again, but finally, after surviving another horrific event, the Moonwoman guides her to come back to town, just in time to reveal everything to Ossin and his family, as well as all the people of the city. She protects Ossin's sister from becoming another of her father's victims. And in many ways, she gets her revenge on her father, though it's not revenge in a vengeful, destructive, negative way. If anything, by finally telling the truth, she just removes from herself the power he held over her, and destroyed the spell he had cast over the rest of the world. His continued obsession with her meant she was the only one who could stop him, break him to the point where he wouldn't be able to hurt anyone again. So Lissar both magically and normally rages at him. She bleeds everywhere and transforms back into her original appearance. She takes away his power. (hide spoiler)]
Of course, not everything is instantly perfect for Lissar, even after her final confrontation with her father. Luckily, Lissar has solid, dependable Ossin by her side to love her unconditionally and support her in every way she needs. One of the reasons I love Lissar and Ossin so much, and treasured their story, is that they seemed like such ordinary people. They didn't have an epic, love-at-first-sight moment, but rather, fell in love with each other the ordinary way, day by day, hour by hour. They saw the good in each other, cared for each other, and slowly started to hope for more. Neither were overconfident in each other's feelings, but both were quite sure of their own. They were wonderful people as individuals, and even greater together. I only wish we could have had more time seeing them happy. A little fan service never hurt any book! ;)
One thing I will never really understand is what exactly was up with Lissar's parents that made them so self-obsessed? And what power did they hold that drew everyone to be in love with them, too? I feel like it had to be magical in nature, as Lissar used magic to break that power, but what caused it in the first place? Was it the magical quest that her mother's father had sent her father on to win her mother's hand? Was that the start of it all? I doubt I'll ever understand the whys of that part, but maybe it's not important that everything make sense.
I still enjoy and will treasure this book, though I'll probably revert back to teen mode, and only re-read the happy parts in the future. :) Can't blame a girl for wanting to be happy! Also, I'm on a quest to read the books on my "favorites" shelf that I haven't read and reviewed since joining Goodreads in 2009, so expect to see more reviews down the line where I take fresh eyes to my old favorites. At least, as much as I can bear to do so. We'll see.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)