Sunday, 1 June 2014

'Rose Daughter' by Robin McKinley (1997)

Synopsis: Rose Daughter is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. Beauty is the daughter of a wealthy shipping merchant. Her mother died in a riding accident when she was only a young child. The only thing that Beauty can remember about her is her rose-scented perfume. Because her father's soothsayers failed to warn him about his wife's death, her father turns against magic completely. This eventually costs him his business. Beauty, her father, and her two sisters Lionheart and Jeweltongue then move to a small house in the countryside called Rose Cottage. When her father hears that one of his ships has been recovered he then goes on a trip back to the city. When he offers to get each of his daughters a present, Beauty only asks for a single red rose. Her father returns but he paid a price in taking the rose. He took it from the garden of a mysterious Beast who is now demanding that Beauty be sent to his palace. Beauty reluctantly volunteers to go. She then discovers that the Beast is actually kind and gentle and that he asks her to marry him every night.


About a year ago I read Robin McKinley's Beauty and I loved it :) It was a beautifully-written and lovely take on the classic fairytale. When I found out that McKinley wrote another retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale almost 20 years after her first attempt I was certainly intrigued. I can't think of any other modern authors who've attempted to retell one of their own stories! Now that I've read Rose Daughter I think I understand why authors don't do it: your second attempt will never be as good as your original. Rose Daughter is nowhere near as good as Beauty. Rose Daughter is very well-written and Beauty's two sisters are better developed than there were in Beauty, but everything else about Rose Daughter was a huge disappointment. I found most of it painfully boring and tedious.

In Rose Daughter's afterword, Robin McKinley claims that she felt the urge to retell the Beauty and the Beast story again after moving to England and taking up rose-gardening. As she learned more about roses and how to cultivate them she began to wish that she'd written more about them in her original. So, whereas the heroine of Beauty was passionate about books and horses, the heroine of Rose Daughter is passionate about gardening. When she's at the Beast's palace she wakes up, has breakfast, does some gardening, plays with some cute animals, does some more gardening, has a bath, has dinner with the Beast, they talk for a bit, she goes off to bed, falls asleep, dreams about her family, wakes up, has breakfast... you get the idea. The story felt so repetitive. I found the heroine of the story boring and harder to relate to than the heroine of Beauty and her love-story with the Beast is under-developed. Beauty spends more time gardening than she does with the Beast. It really doesn't help matters that they're only together for a few days either. In Beauty, the heroine spends almost a year at the Beast's castle but in Rose Daughter the heroine is only with the Beast for seven days. It's so much less believable that Beauty would develop such strong feelings with the Beast when she spends such little time with him. There are some very odd subplots in this book too and they go nowhere.

I also had a major problem with the ending of this book. It seems to be addressing one of the common criticisms about the Beauty and the Beast fairytale: the fact that the Beast turns back into a human prince at the end. "Looks aren't everything!", some people say, "Beauty loved the Beast when he was a Beast so he should stay a Beast!" Well I completely disagree. I don't think the Beast turning back into a human at the end undermines the message of the fairytale. I  find the idea of the Beast remaining a Beast at the end incredibly disturbing and creepy. How will Beauty and the Beast's marriage work?! Are they going to consummate their marriage or what?! Urgh, I don't even want to think about it! Read Beauty instead. Now that book I can recommend!

Rating: 1.5/5

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