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Rose Daughter

by Robin McKinley

hardcover edition

Robin McKinley has been my favorite fantasy author since I first read The Blue Sword as a teenager, and it has been five years since her last novel appeared, so I was delighted to find a new novel of hers. Rose Daughter is another retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. The plot is very similar to that of her lovely first novel, Beauty, but she has stuffed a very different story into it.

Beauty is, of course, the youngest daughter of a wealthy widower. The eldest daughter, Lionheart, is daring and loves horses; the middle daughter, Jeweltongue, is clever and loves wordplay; Beauty is shy, and loves gardening, and she loves roses above all other growing things. When her father's business fails, they are left with nothing but a small country house named Rose Cottage, so small and distant that even the creditors don't want it. The sisters are happy in the new life they make for themselves at Rose Cottage, despite rumors of a mysterious curse; but then their father takes refuge from a blizzard in an enchanted palace, and when he takes a rose from the breakfast table to bring to Beauty, the Beast demands his youngest daughter in return.

As I said, McKinley has written this plot before, but this version is calmer and more thoughtful, with a somewhat Gothic atmosphere. The pace is generally leisurely, but the writing has such charm that I was never less than completely absorbed in the story. She writes with contagious affection for her characters and their surroundings. Things animal, vegetable, and mineral, both magical and mundane, are so animate that they are nearly characters; the people are so prosaic in the midst of all that wonder that they seem real enough to wander in from the next room and offer you tea or recite bad poetry at you.

An author's note at the end explains that McKinley had no intention of writing Beauty and the Beast again, but this novel happened to her unexpectedly. I'm glad it did. Rose Daughter doesn't have quite the energy or the emotional oomph of her earlier novels, but it's a lovely, charming, gentle story.

"Is that all that matters?" she whispered, as if the Numen might hear and answer her. "This is a story like any nursery tale of magic? Where any maiden will do, any -- any -- monster, any hero, so long as they meet the right mysterious old women and discover the right enchanted doors during the right enchanted midnights..."
-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
September 1997

hardcover edition
Publisher: Greenwillow
Date: September 1997
ISBN: 0-688-15439-5
Binding: hardcover
Pages: 306
Price: US $16.00, Canada $22.00

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Sep 2001 / CMS