Sunday, 3 January 2010

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

*****
My first book of the year and not a true chick-lit. (sorry!)  So, I'm just finishing of my current fad of re-written versions of Beauty and the Beast (my absolute favourite fairy tale ever...which somehow explains my minor obsession with Phantom of the Opera, really!) 
Anyway, Robin McKinley's first retelling of the story was "Beauty" which was very much for the younger reader.  Twenty years later she revisited the story and wrote "Rose Daughter" which is more mature in language but is possibly more fairy tale and "dreamlike" as it isn't written in the first person.  At the end of the book, there is a note where the author explains her decision to revisit and it all makes sense when you see her reasons and what she did with it! Obviously, there's no surprises as to what happens in the story but I'll put a spoiler warning where I could ruin an aspect of the story for you!

Just like "Beauty" this is beautifully and hauntingly written, it allows you to enter a magical and romantic world.  Beauty's sisters are more engaging than in the many traditional retellings and show genuine affection for their family.  The story does take a while to get going as it begins with the death of their mother and their father's emotional and financial decline which makes him a rather peripheral character throughout.  Due to their ruin the family move to the small town of Longchance to a cottage they have been left under odd circumstances.  Here they have a very different kind of life but accept that they are possibly happier than they were in the city.  Elements of magic were important in their previous life but there is little evidence of any magic in Longchance until the roses begin to grow at their cottage.  Beauty is a natural gardener and the author's love of roses is clear through the descriptions of the developing gardens both at the cottage and when Beauty moves to the palace with the Beast.
The Beast is a very mannered and clearly sensitive character, there is no threat of danger at any time from him and Beauty understands very quickly that he is honest and trustworthy.  She finds the greenhouse where the roses are dying and sets herself to work to restore them.  Due to this a large part of the book is dedicated to the flowers and I did find myself wishing for more interaction between the Beast and Beauty.  Other than the brief section where he puts salve on her scratched arms and the roof top scene, there is little of the "slow burn" to show the developing affection and love between the two characters.  In part I think this was also due to Beauty only being in the palace for a week before returning to her family and during this time she had the roses, various types of wildlife to re-home and the urgent search for manure (no, I'm not kidding!) so the romantic touches probably weren't at the forefront of her mind.  Although I understand that McKinley didn't want to "re-write" the whole of "Beauty" there were a few touches from that book that I would have like to seen revisited with the more mature style of this book.
The ending relied a bit too much on the greenwitch having to explain the "curse" and at times it felt a bit clumsy, particularly as there had already been some aspects of the curse (although they weren't quite correct) discussed by the villagers.
**spoiler** please highlight** I actually don't have a problem with Beauty's decision for the Beast to remain so, but it seemed a little harsh on the Beast...not just about looks but actually being able to live a normal life again, particularly as her decision also meant he lost the ability to be the philosopher he was previously  (or is that just me?!)

Although for me it's not absolutely perfect, I did love it and felt slightly bereft when I reached the end.  It's a keeper!