Beauty and the Roses

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:

Other reviews:
Dodging Commas
Fyrefly’s Book Blog

24 thoughts on “Beauty and the Roses

  1. I find it fascinating that she rewrote the story twenty years later and that it felt, to you, like a completely different book; I’m really looking forward to reading both of them now!

  2. I have read Sunshine by McKinley which I really enjoyed and I’ve wanted to read Beauty for quite some time – I love fairytales retold. Not heard of this one but it sounds really good and I already know I like the author.
    Lynn 😀

  3. This sounds lovely. I’m really tempted. I always found it intriguing that she chose the same fairy tale twice but they still sound very different.
    I’m glad you still liked it. And even more. I’m afraid of re-.reading books and losing an old friend instead of meeting one again.

  4. This sounds good, I like a bit of surrealism every now and then 🙂 I read Beauty for the RIP challenge this year, it might be fitting to read another McKinley for Once Upon a Time too.

  5. I saw Rose Daughter listed on a list of fairy tale retellings, but I’m so glad I read your review of both Beauty and Rose Daughter! You’ve made them both sound irresistible!

  6. I’m with you on this one. I really do love Beauty best, but all the good things you’ve pointed out about Rose Daughter are things that I enjoy about it. I really like McKinley overall — perhaps it is time for a reread of one of these.

    1. McKinley is wonderful, isn’t she? If I hadn’t recently reread both, I’d probably choose Beauty for a reread. Because I like it a smidge more, and because it’s somehow a cosier book, very suitable for revisiting again and again.

  7. I absolutely love Robin McKinley, but I’ve only read Rose Daughter once, and it was several years ago. Lately I’ve been thinking I’d like to revisit it. Have you read Chalice? I think I read somewhere that McKinley had the “Beauty and the Beast” tale in mind with that book as well.

    1. Rose Daughter is definitely worth a revisit! Chalice is one of my favorite McKinley books as well. I’ve only read it once, but it’s one I plan to go back to. There are certainly some Beauty and the Beast elements, but it’s not nearly as close a retelling as Beauty and Rose Daughter. Somewhere I read something McKinley wrote about how every author really only has one story, and Beauty and the Beast is hers. You should give it a read! 🙂

      1. I just finished reading Chalice earlier today and thought that it was fantastic. I didn’t think of Beauty and the Beast at all while reading it, but looking back I can see how the two stories are related.

        1. Oh good, now I feel like I can admit that I didn’t think about Beauty and the Beast while I was reading Chalice either! 🙂 I think it may be because McKinley has two other books that are so directly Beauty and the Beast. Chalice, on the other hand, just has some similarities–although in some ways it seems obvious now that I’m thinking about it!

  8. I know I’ve read Beauty–and absolutely loved it. But I can’t remember if I’ve read Rose Daughter. I may have given it up partway through. I think I was trying to read it back-to-back with Beauty. Anyway, I think I need to give this one a try! Thanks for the review!

    1. I think I’d definitely give some space between a reading of Beauty and Rose Daughter–they’re very different, but right in a row I think the plot would feel too similar. I hope you pick Rose Daughter up again!

  9. I really need to read this. I adored BEAUTY and have been eager to see how Robin McKinley handled a different version of essentially the same story. Based on your review, it sounds like she did a pretty good job of it.

    On a related note, I can’t believe BEAUTY is nearly forty! It doesn’t seem possible.

    1. People often seem to split on which of McKinley’s “Beauty and the Beast” novels they like–but I know other people who love both too. You should give it a try!

      And I am frequently shocked when I think about how old some of my favorite books are…

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