Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rose Daughter

By Robin McKinley.

The logical next step after reading Beauty, also by Robin McKinley, was this book. (Actually, I read several other books in between, but I think this still counts as a next step since I only read Beauty a week or two ago.) It amused me quite a bit when I read Sunshine to have the narrator say (obviously speaking for the author, in this instance) that "there are a lot of things you can do with the story of Beauty and the Beast, and I've done most of them" (pseudo-quote - probably not exact wording). So here's this story, 20 years after Beauty, and what about it makes it different enough that it's worth reading both?

It actually started off differently enough that I was upset when word of a lost ship returning came after the family's descent into poverty. Apparently, that is an integral part of the story. Certainly there is no other reason a devoted father would end up lost in the woods and find himself at an enchanted castle. You'll forgive me if that's a bit harsh, I guess.

Otherwise this book is quite different from Beauty. Near the end it comes out that she believes her name was chosen because, unlike her sisters (Lionheart(!) and Jeweltongue--the names are almost more gaudy than the enchanted castle), her beauty is her only real asset. This book is also not in the first person, which, if I remember correctly, Beauty was. To be frank, the Beauty in Rose Daughter seems to be somewhat sillier than her sisters seem to think. She believes (we all know the story, right?) that the beast brought her to his palace so that she could revive his rose garden. No kidding.

The story of how the beast was cursed is also somewhat less than clear, although I suspect I could figure it out if I reread it and thought about it enough. Several stories are told and it isn't entirely clear what the truth about the past is, although the truth is that Beauty has been dreaming about walking down a long dark corrider towards something frightening since she was a child in the city. Immediately you start wondering why she seems fated to what happens...

This story is also, I think, somewhat more frightening than Beauty. Not only does the author once again do a good job of making you fear the ending (it seems even more possible with the third-person narration that things could turn out bad), the castle is even more disturbingly magical than before, with things changing out of the corner of her eye and not even the beast in control (it reminds me very much of Jai Khalar, another place where the door you just came through might not lead to the place you came from, or might not even be there at all), and strange dreams of the town where her family lives where she is seen as a ghost. You start wondering if she actually is a ghost, especially after hearing Mrs. Words-without-End's version of the story.

This might be a rare book where a happy ending is not an entirely satisfying, because the journey on the way there is only half-remembered though there are tantalizing clues about what might have happened. I suppose, for some authors (many authors? not being an author, I can't speak for them), that is probably the goal: a book that you will keep thinking about.

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