McKinley, Robin. Rose Daughter (1998). 287 Pages. Ace. $6.99
Robin McKinley is known for her fairytale retellings; Beauty and Rose Daughter both retell Beauty & the Beast, while Spindle’s End retells Sleeping Beauty, and Deerskin retells Donkey Skin, which is a lesser known tale, I believe. All of her books exist in worlds steeped in magic, full of amazing things, which is part of why they (and the characters who inhabit them) are so very interesting.
It’s always hard to know what to say about fairytale retellings; everyone knows the basic story, the beginning, and the end. Beauty is taken from her family, and eventually she falls in love with the Beast. It’s that middle part, the part that can vary, the way they get from A to B that really makes the story unique.
Rose Daughter is about Beauty, Jeweltongue, and Lionheart, three sisters who were not very close while they lived in the city– there were too many other things to do. Each girl comes into her own when they move out to Longchance– and Rose Cottage. Jeweltongue learns to sew, and make beautiful clothing, Lionheart disguises herself as a boy and tends to horses, and Beauty gardens. When their father gets a message saying that one of his long lost ships has arrived, he departs, and it is upon his return that he encounters the Beast.
Beauty’s time at the castle is special, and a bit unique. Every day when she wakes up, there are more animals, moving back in thanks to her. There is a mystery– revolving around cheese, though it is not a silly mystery as that statement makes it sound– and some danger. The Beast has hidden depths, and ultimately, Beauty must make a very important choice which changes the course of their life together.
Her earliest memory was of waking up from the dram. It was also her only clear memory of her mother. Her mother was beautiful, dashing, the toast of the town. Her youngest daughter remembered the blur of activity, friends and hangers-on, soothsayers, and staff, the bad-tempered pet dragon on a leash– bad tempered on account of the ocarunda leaves in his food … — the constant glamour and motion which was her mother and her mother’s world.
Rose Daughter may be another Beauty & the Beast retelling, but it is very different from Beauty, this story’s predecessor.
Beauty is, in fact, a beautiful girl, whose talents are mostly of the quiet variety; she is good with plants, roses will grow for her, and she seems to radiate calm and peace, helping her entire family stay together through the worst of it all. Her sisters are flashier, and more vibrant; Jeweltongue is known for her wit and cleverness, Lionheart for her temper and bravery (though each discover more traits which lead to greater happiness), but without Beauty, they would have been lost. Even Beauty’s father discovers a quieter sort of happiness, and his own talent.
The time Beauty spends at the castle is interesting; she is overwhelmed by the silence of the place, and tries to understand (at least a little) the magic which keeps the place running. Her relationship with the Beast is complicated from the start, which somehow makes it easier to accept her feelings for him; she sees early on that there is some humanity in him. Even more interesting is the idea that the Beast is not a Beast because of an enchantress’s curse, but rather because of something else.
Most of the book is very good; we get a lot about Beauty and her family, which makes them feel real. We get less about the Beast, but we still get a fair amount of his story. We lack a lot about the residents of Longchance, which is mostly ok, because the story isn’t about them, but they do play a major role in plot development. There is a difference in chronology between the Beast’s castle and the mundane world, and it is never questioned or explained, just allowed to be. There are a few more things which could have strengthened the story, but it is not bad because they are lacking.
Despite its flaws, it is a good book with a solid story, and is well worth reading. (It also stands up to multiple reads, which is important, as I am known to re-read favorites.) It gets a 4/5.