Robin McKinley,
Rose Daughter
(Ace, 1998)

Robin McKinley had the honor of guiding me on my first foray into the magical world of fantasy fiction. I picked up a copy of The Hero and the Crown at a book fair in the second grade; that much-read and much-loved book holds a position of tattered importance on my nightstand, along with other favorites found through the years. While Rose Daughter is a beautiful retelling of Beauty and the Beast, it didn't grip me with the same fever that McKinley's other novels have.

Rose Daughter is actually McKinley's second retelling of the Beauty fairy-tale. The first novel, Beauty, received critical acclaim almost twenty years ago. The second time around, McKinley focuses more on the symbolic imagery central to the original fairy-tale -- the rose. This novel still keeps Beauty and the Beast as central characters, but it also introduces us to Beauty's sisters, Jeweltongue and Lionheart, as their roles in this story are vital to the choice that Beauty must ultimately make.

McKinley uses the basic skeleton of the original tale; her treatment differs by delving into the darker realms of nightmare and curses. When Beauty's mother dies, her father banishes the use of magic in the household. His subsequent bankruptcy forces the three daughters to take stock of their possessions and adapt to a lesser lifestyle. Beauty stumbles across a will in her father's correspondence which provides the family with a small cottage, Rose Cottage, in the country. The three sisters discover their own particular talents, which are nourished by their move to the country. As a result, the events of the original tale are set into motion, with the novel progressing rather predictably from this point.

While the language is compelling, the story itself didn't transport me. McKinley's narrative style left me with the impression of being an observer instead of actually drawing me into the tale. McKinley makes good use of several original additions to the fairytale; Beauty's affinity for growing roses provides some of the most eloquent scenes in the novel, and Jeweltongue and Lionheart are wonderfully engaging characters, as dynamic as the main characters. Speaking of main characters, the Beast in this novel is extremely dull and predictable. In fact, he seems more like the idea of a character than a fully-realized character. Unfortunately, McKinley's attempts to spice up the original story by adding a full-blown legend about a mage war, a curse on the three sisters living in Rose Cottage, and a ghost who appears in the local town, all lose their originality as the tale progresses and the reader is able to predict what will happen next.

Although I was rather disappointed at how easily I knew what was going to happen next, I still enjoyed Rose Daughter. McKinley possesses a strong gift for telling stories in the language of the old tales -- a richly detailed, magical voice comes through even in the most plodding pages of the novel. While I probably won't reread this novel any time soon, I don't regret the couple of hours I spent reading it.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

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