It’s always a joy to come back to a beloved book, and find out you still love it on a reread. But it’s even better when you find out you love it even more. That happened to me with Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley. I’ve read it at least once–maybe twice–and I always liked it. But this time I really loved it.
Rose Daughter is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and my first book for this year’s Once Upon a Time Challenge. I was excited to jump into the challenge, which is why you’re getting a third book review this week!
I don’t have a lot to say about the plot, because mostly there aren’t surprises here (except when there are, and that’s too far into the book to discuss without ruining it with spoilers!) There’s a ruined merchant and his three daughters, there’s a mysterious castle with a mysterious Beast, and there are roses. Lots and lots and LOTS of roses.
You may be thinking–didn’t McKinley write another story with this plot? A few less roses, but still the same story? She did–Beauty. But the amazing thing is how different the books felt to me, even though they are essentially the same plot.
I’ve said before that I am hugely impressed by the different writing style in McKinley’s different books, and that’s very true in these two. Beauty is practical. There’s magic, but it’s magic that exists in a very reasonable, understandable world, with real people and commonplace concerns. Even the magic has a slightly homey feel to it, from winds that scold and candles that whisper “Psst, wake up!” when one of their number forgets to light.
Rose Daughter is surreal. The Beast lives in a constantly changing castle where laws of time and space simply don’t apply. The magic is somber and imposing and a deeply serious business, powerful and ominous. Even the world outside the castle feels more like something wild and strange, a world where everyone’s names reflect who they are (Beauty’s sisters are Jeweltongue and Lionheart), and there are mysteries and magic and curses.
While I always liked Rose Daughter, I also preferred practicality to surrealism. I’m not sure what happened since my last reading, if it’s just that I got older or if it’s that I read more Brothers Grimm, but I loved the style of Rose Daughter this time. It really may be that I came to it shortly after writing my own Brothers Grimmesque stories, and this is a Brothers Grimmesque book: the names, and flowery ornateness of the writing, smack of the Brothers Grimm (even though they didn’t write a version of “Beauty and the Beast”).
The writing is just gorgeous. I love the descriptions, of feelings and flowers and smells. There are long passages about flowers, but don’t be offput by that. I’m not even fond of roses, but I never got bored by the book–and it kind of made me want to have a love affair with roses, even though I’ve been in a very happy relationship with daffodils for years. Based on other reviews, it seems to make many people want to go out and plant rose bushes.
I think, in my heart of hearts, I do still love Beauty better. I like that Beauty a bit better than this one, and I definitely like her romance better. Much as I love Rose Daughter, the relationship with the Beast just didn’t appeal to me as much. But I do love Rose Daughter, and it is a truly, truly beautiful book.
McKinley wrote an Author’s Note about the inspiration that led to Rose Daughter, and mentions that it came twenty years after Beauty–so maybe the story will come back to her in a new form in another twenty years. That was in 1996, so if that prediction comes true, we only have four years to wait! If I could, I’d put in my preorder today.
Author’s Site: http://www.robinmckinley.com/