Saturday, 28 May 2011

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

I've been on a bit of a Beauty and the Beast retellings spree lately, this being one of the retellings I decided to purchase.

About the author: Robin McKinley is a name I've heard thrown around quite a lot in recent in years, though this is the first time that I've read anything by her. She is an American author, currently living in Britain, and writes in British English in this book.

Presentation: This is a run of the mill mass market paperback.The cover is simple, yet attractive. It is a pretty shade of purple with the cottage where Beauty lives connected to the palace where the Beast lives by rose vines and pettles. The story itself is broken down into 14 chapters, each rougly the same length. The type is with no spacing between the lines, so it looks a bit like a wall of text at times.

Story: Lionheart, Jeweltongue and Beauty are the daughters of the wealthiest merchant in the city. When their mother dies in a riding accident, their father slowly loses everything he worked for until, ruined, the whole family is forced to leave the city. Beauty discovers that the three girls were willed a cottage on the outskirts of a small town a significant distance from the city. They set out to build a new life for themselves there.
All of the girls make themselves useful: Lionheart, posing as a boy, gets a job as a stablehand; Jeweltongue is talented with a needle and thread and tailors dresses for the women of the town; and Beauty tends the garden, growing vegetable and tempting the roses that cover the house and garden to flower again. The flowering roses are some feat as they will only flower for magic practitioners, and Beauty is no greenwitch.
Several years after they leave the city, one of their father's previously presumed lost cargo ships reappears and their father is forced to return to the city to deal with it. Upon the return trip, he becomes caught up in a snowstorm. Close to exhaustion, he stumbles across an enchanted palace - free from snow - that caters to his every whim. Upon taking his leave he pockets the rose that he found with his breakfast, meaning to give it to Beauty. A Beast stops him from leaving the palace, assucing him of stealing his rose. Their father is permitted to leave on the condition that Beauty take his place.

Thoughts and impressions: The first quarter of this story was pretty tough-going. The style is very detached, jumping around from scene to scene seemingly at random. The first chapter in particular is so disointed that it took me two days to read and I was fleetingly tempted to give up on the book. It improved vastly after that point but it was still a tough slog at times to get that far. I frequently got the impression throughout the book that even the author herself didn't really know where she was going with the story.
It was blatantly obvious that she was writing about something that she feels very passionate about: gardening. Unfortunately, the story needed more to it than just gardening. It did, of course, have other aspects as well, but many of them were not adequately explored and explained. The magic system of the land received no explanation at all ; the story of how the Beast became a beast is confusing (it's explained three times in three different stories that all have some parts of the truth, but they don't come together very well) ; the machinations of the magic around the castle are not explained.
Why does Master Jack have so much influence over the townspeople? Who is Fourpaws really? Why does Beauty see visions of her sisters some nights but not others? Who was the girls' mother really? And most importantly, what is the significance of the Beast asking Beauty to marry him every evening? I'd thought that this last one might have been part of the curse, but that doesn't seem to have been the case. The story felt unfinished, like the author had said all she had to say about gardening, so she ended it all.
Despite all this, the story was enjoyable and I spent a happy evening with it. It is entirely possible that the answers to some of these questions can be found in the text and would become obvious upon a second reading.

Style: The author has a tendency to write in long, sprawling sentences, using a multitude of commas. This meant that sometimes I had to go back and reread certain parts in order to understand what was being said.

Final Verdict: Rose Daughter falls short of 4 stars for the reasons mentioned. 3 stars.

Extra notes: This book contains no content that I would deem inappropriate for young adults. There are no sexual themes and no strong language is used.


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