Angie's Reviews > Rose Daughter

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley
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Mar 25, 11

bookshelves: belovedbookshelf, girls-who-do-things, retellings
Read in August, 1998

I talk about my love for Robin McKinley's books a lot. I know everyone's read Beauty. It was her first book. It's essentially a classic of fairy tale retellings now. And I love it and will always love it for giving me a Beauty who was not beautiful and avoided mirrors at all cost and a Beast with a library of books from all the ages, including ones that hadn't even been written yet. Makes my little heart sing just thinking of it and the way I absorbed it when I was twelve. But fewer people are as familiar with Ms. McKinley's second retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. If you have a free moment, it's really worth hopping over to her site to read the wonderful essay, "The Story Behind Rose Daughter." It's lovely. When I discovered she was returning to her favorite fairy tale twenty years later and giving it a fresh new take in an entirely new novel, my skin tingled with anticipation. And not a little curiosity at just how she would give the story she'd done so well by a fresh take and whether or not it would capture my imagination the way the original did. People seem to be very divided on their loyalties to these two books. Some would fight to the death for Beauty and don't give ROSE DAUGHTER a second glance. Others feel quite the opposite and gravitate toward the slightly more lush second version. I've listened to these conversations. As for me, my heart is big enough to love them both. And I am so glad she wrote both books. Because someone who understands and loves that particular fairy tale the way it seems she does should never stop telling it, in my opinion. I would read a third and a fourth version and I will re-read these two for the rest of my life.
Her earliest memory was of waking from the dream. It was also her only clear memory of her mother.

Beauty and her two older sisters Jeweltongue and Lionheart live with their father in the city. Their lives have been rather gentle ones, filled with plenty to eat, soft beds, and the best society has to offer. Though they lost their mother early on, they have managed to make a good life with their father, each pursuing the hobbies and talents they love, as represented by their names. Lionheart is brave and strong and loves riding and sport more than anything else. Jeweltongue knows exactly what to say in every situation, sets people at ease, and sews and embroiders the most beautiful dresses. Beauty loves nature. She loves flowers and gardens and especially roses, in all their varieties and iterations, because they remind her of her mother. Then tragedy strikes. Their father loses all his wealth and they are forced to move to tiny Rose Cottage far away in the countryside. The sisters' talents are put to good use earning what meager money they can and their lives are changed in starkly unimaginable ways. But none more than Beauty's. All her life she's had the same dream. More of a nightmare, really. In which she is walking down a long hallway, uncertain of the mystery she will find behind that final door, but dreading it all the same and filled with the terror that she will both eventually get there and not get there in time. The usual events follow and Beauty takes her father's place and finds herself living in the Beast's home, where his lovely rose garden is dying. But, of course, everything is more than meets the eye, and Beauty will, in the end, have to make the hardest decision of all.
Roses are for love. Not silly sweet-hearts' love but the love that makes you and keeps you whole, love that gets you through the worst your life'll give you and that pours out of you when you're given the best instead.

Sigh. I love this book so much. It is, without a doubt, a more adult retelling of the fairy tale. And I don't mean that there is any potentially objectionable in it at all. I merely mean that you can feel the depth of experience and emotion in the work, which I think represents what the author brings to the tale twenty years after she first retold it. The sisters feel a bit older, a bit more mature, though I always love that McKinley represents them as loving and kind to one another and as in the whole thing together. The Beast himself feels more ancient to me, closer to the end of his long existence, and we get even more background information on how he came to be the way he was and what his interminable penance has really been like. And the love of beauty and gardens and all living things permeates the page in such a way that I, who am the most unskilled and amateur of gardeners, go looking for a spade and seeds the minute I put the book down. The language in ROSE DAUGHTER swallows me up as well. I find myself eternally charmed by the archetypal names and the various village denizens the girls encounter: Miss Trueword, Mrs. Words-Without-End, Mrs. Bestcloth. Each personality is distinct and you can tell that they each have their own vital stories playing out, even as the focus remains on Beauty and her path. Each time I read it, I relish getting lost with her in the ever-changing castle that is the Beast's home, as the words and the corridors wrap their twisty novelty around me and the heady magic that suffuses the place and the world has its way with me. The romance is wonderful and just as it should be. The magic is dense and carefully woven. And the descriptions so visual I can call them to mind on any given day, so vibrant are the impressions they made on me. And the ending, you say? Well, you shall have to find out for yourself. To me, it is perfect. I'm interested what it is to you.
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Joanna Just so you know, I bought this on my way home from work!


Angie Oh wow! Sweet. Hope you enjoy.


message 3: by Estara (new)

Estara I'm one of those who is firmly on the "Beauty" side of those two retellings (Rose Daughter was too dark for me), but I totally agree that the very end twist about the fate of the Beast SHOULD have been in Beauty, too. Greatheart forever!


Joanna It had been on my radar for a while, but this was just the push I needed to finally buy it!


Angie Estara, *grin*. I understand. And I love Greatheart!


message 6: by Estara (last edited Apr 09, 2011 10:39AM) (new)

Estara Angie wrote: "Estara, *grin*. I understand. And I love Greatheart!"

I may have discovered Robin McKinley in my 20s - there was hardly any female sf or fantasy in Germany so I had to wait for my English to be good enough to read in the original - but I have always loved horses (from afar)!


message 7: by Katharine (new)

Katharine Kimbriel I have always loved Beauty, but not gotten around to Rose Daughter. Sounds like it is time to put it on the list!


message 8: by Estara (new)

Estara Katharine wrote: "I have always loved Beauty, but not gotten around to Rose Daughter. Sounds like it is time to put it on the list!"

Considering you can go pretty dark in your own writing, like in the Alfreda books, you're likely to enjoy it more than I did.


message 9: by Katharine (new)

Katharine Kimbriel Well, I don't write sweetness and light -- you have to live that, or believe in it, to write it, and I have done neither of those things -- but a touch of darkness can be borne. It's the unrelenting darkness I don't do, or care for. Yes, DARKNESS can produce Great Literature -- but I'm aware of why most people read fiction, and I like a hopeful ending.


message 10: by Estara (new)

Estara Katharine wrote: "It's the unrelenting darkness I don't do, or care for."

Neither do I ^^ - Rose Daughter isn't unrelentingly dark, but it does go almost gothic - for my taste!


Angie So interesting to hear it called darker. I never got that sense reading RD. More dire, certainly. But I can see where you're coming from with the dream and the history behind the place.


message 12: by Estara (new)

Estara Angie wrote: "So interesting to hear it called darker. I never got that sense reading RD. More dire, certainly. But I can see where you're coming from with the dream and the history behind the place."

Maybe I'm just using the wrong/a different adjective for the same meaning you call dire? I may make my living as a teacher of English, but I'm not a native speaker - so there may indeed be subtleties I'm not grasping. ^^


message 13: by Nancy (new) - added it

Nancy I think you have convinced me to read this book. Thanks for the wonderful review.


Angie Nancy, it is my pleasure. :)


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