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Rose Daughter
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66 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2006
When _Rose Daughter_ came out, I was surprised. I read _Beauty_ when I was ten or eleven and loved it, and I wasn't sure how differently the same person could tell that story.

McKinley did an amazing job of it. First of all, you should know that _Rose Daughter_ is not a short book, or a quick book. If you're looking for a quick, light read for a younger reader, _Beauty_ remains a good choice--it's more interesting than the standard version by far, and it tends to stick with you.

It's not that she changes the story in this newer version--it's that she gives it a setting, and that the people have far, far more depth. The characters are clearly totally different people from their counterparts in _Beauty_, and the world is different, and it all progresses differently. (The ending, too, seems like she took seriously the joke we all made after watching Disney's final, slightly awkward, transformation--that he looked better as the Beast.) McKinley gives herself more room to maneuver in this version--rightly feeling that she's already told the story the simple way once. Don't get me wrong--it's not like she took the story and changed it, and that's what makes it interesting. The actual differences in simple plot are mostly unimportant. The famous story is more than a theme here. But it's like she looked at what might have really happened, had Beauty and the Beast really happened, to actual people--just in a different sort of world from ours.

The words are beautiful; the imagery is amazingly detailed yet concise (here we see the full benefit of McKinley's practice as a children's writer). The characters are people, whom you'd like to meet (or not, where appropriate). She doesn't waste much time on proving that the Beast is really a handsome prince suitable for her heroine--she skips over that, and makes him a character. When he speaks, you feel like you can hear his voice. One of the best sections of the book describes his interest in painting. For just a moment, Beauty--and the Beast--are removed from the fatefull progression of the story, and you can see them as people, as they might have been if there weren't any enchantment at all. Suddenly it's easy to believe that they'd fall in love.

Another thing McKinley changes is the reason the Beast is a Beast. Without spoiling the story, it's not the usual simple answer of fairy-tale arrogance. He's not just a rude or cruel prince, the sort that no heroine ought to love but this one does anyway because she is so good that she improves him. He has his faults, but he's not annoying, and the more interesting questions that come up have to do with what it actually means to be human. Which is quite an improvement. The book is romantic in an older sense (exciting and more than a little dramatic, especially when it comes to roses). There aren't any simpering scenes of clichéd storybook Disney Princess romance here. Beauty eventually realizes she's in love, and she does what she thinks she ought to do. If you want something to goo over, go back and read the section about the roses again (well, any of the sections). The traditional, romantic tale becomes a framework for something more complex--like writing in really detailed illustrations where all the gaps in the simple text are filled in with the expressions on people's faces and all the things going on in the background. Fairy tales are never much more than an outline. This time, the rest of it--what they ate for breakfast, the random friends and acquaintences and teacups/carpets/neighbors/histories are all there, and all of them interesting. It's the difference between publishing the novelization of a story and taking a story as the starting point, then going and writing a novel.

I wish people hadn't thrown _Rose Daughter_ into the "young adult" category at all, because it really isn't that kind of book. It's more suitable for adults, or teenage readers who would normally be looking for something more literary than your standard juvenille fantasy story about dragons and princesses. Basically, _Rose Daughter_ is _Beauty_ for an audience that wants their fairy tales to be not just engaging and memorable but creative and unique, full of wordplay and a narrative style that goes beyond entertainment.

The characters are complex and believable, despite their strange, allegorical names and seemingly (until you know them better) cartoonish characteristics. The first chapter or so is odd, and some readers may be lost at the begining, unable to get into the story and unwilling to continue. But this is unusually rich writing, and beautifully done. The gimmicks fade as you start to realize exactly how skillfully she's constructed the system of names--by the second or third chapter, you've forgotten that there's anything strange about a woman known as "Beauty." It may be a different world, one that we never fully see (what cities? what countries?), but it quickly starts to feel natural, in a way that is quite rare for fantasy of any kind.

I have read few books with such amazingly well-sketched "minor" characters. One of the things that--on re-reading--seems to be lacking from _Beauty_ (and any other version of Beauty and the Beast that comes to mind) is any kind of real personality among Beauty's family. Disney omitted the sisters to save space, and most stories marginalize them as stereotypes. McKinley correctly asks how and why relationships change as the story progresses, and it makes all the difference. And it lengthens the book a good deal (thank goodness! in my opinion, because I didn't want it to end), but the depth of description in this novel is truly wonderful. The whole time you feel like you're right there, in the story--something that's hard to accomplish with such a well-known fairy tale. McKinley shows us that maybe we didn't already know all there was to know about this story, after all. Beauty and the Beast is not the kind of story that lends itself to the creation of a world, instead of the crafting of a parable--but on her second try, McKinley goes far beyond the story itself. If you've ever watched the Disney version and wished you could find out more about the villagers, because they seem more interesting than they're given credit for, this telling does just that.

The only downsides--in my opinion--are when she feels obliged to return to the traditional plot, and we suddenly have a villain and an explanation tossed in. They disrupt everything, and are hardly necessary. The story could have just been allowed to happen--it feels real enough to work that way. I gave it five stars anyway because I think it's still a really exceptional work, from a literary point of view. Everything that McKinley does in this book that ISN'T the story of Beauty and the Beast is absolutely phenomenal. Somehow a lot of fantasy writers seem to have forgotten that taking on a traditional story provides an opportunity to work with other aspects of the writing instead of just trying to find a unique plot. _Rose Daughter_ ends up being marvelous because McKinley looks at it as the potential for a world--one where strange names and incomprehensible enchantments make sense--instead of as a writing exercize, or her chance to put her "stamp" on a particular story. This book goes far beyond that.

In short, if you're looking for a traditional fantasy telling of a novelized fairy tale, perhaps you should look somewhere else. If you're looking for an unusually rich, complex, and unique work of fiction, and have the patience to enjoy it, _Rose Daughter_ is just about perfect.
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Thank goodness for Robin McKinley, who writes stories for those of us who grew up loving fairy tales (but who also found ourselves wishing for stronger heroines or more interesting resolutions).

I'd somehow missed "Rose Daughter," although I'm a fan of all of McKinley's books (and "Sunshine" and "the Hero and the Crown" are books I'd grab if my house was burning down. They're that wonderful). However, I had read her telling of "Beauty" years ago and loved it.

Yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that I loved "Rose Daughter" even more. The two sisters to the protagonist are as fascinating, brave, and interesting in their own rights as she is, and the heroine is intelligent, courageous, and quietly extroardinary.

My favorite aspects of this novel, though, were twofold: The roses, and the Beast. I'm not a plant person -- I look at a plant, and it promptly lets out a little sigh and falls over dead. But this book made me feel a little of what it must be like to be a gardener. I've never read anyone who writes about roses the way McKinley does here. They come alive on the page.

And then there is the Beast, who is just as beastly as ever, but who is also brilliant, fascinating, and well, by the end, weirdly attractive. By the end we are able to see the Beast's beauty for ourselves, without easy resolutions or big Disney moments, and that's the most extroardinary thing of all about this telling.

A beautiful, haunting book, and easily appropriate for readers 13 and up -- don't miss.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2000
Okay, I read all the customer reviews about "Rose Daughter." As a lot of them were pretty negative with a lot of stuff to back it up, I prepared to read the book with my most discerning mindset. McKinely had done "Beauty" and I was sure that was all she could get out of the Beauty and the Beast story. I was surprised. "Rose Daughter" is absolutely beautiful. The story is done in a fantasy style, with rich, vivid descriptions and word usage. It is so hard to find writing like that anymore. It makes a novel so much more artsy and absorbing. The book has a darker side, and is almost a mystery, in a certain sense. There are spells, sorcerers, simularcums, stuff that "Beauty" didn't have. Don't get me wrong, "Beauty" is fantastic, and not worse than "Rose Daughter." But the two books have so many differences that they just can't be compared. The ending, to say the least, wasn't quite what I expected, but nonetheless, I enjoyed it. =D I probably wouldn't have done what Beauty did, but then again, I have a twisted sense of morals. Hehe. Anyway, I don't see why so many didn't
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 1999
"Beauty" was one of the first fantasy books I ever read, and remains my favorite to this day. I anticipated "Rose Daughter" eagerly, hoping for a retelling that would flesh out the characters and the setting while retaining the soul-deep appeal of the Beauty character and the supporting cast. Although McKinley dedicates more words to the world of these characters, she has reduced Beauty from a powerful, wonderful, sensitive, strong character to something of a simp, someone who lacks a backbone and any strong-mindedness. Instead of determining the course of her life and fighting for herself, as she does in "Beauty," she really just goes with the flow, exhibiting very little spunk, or indeed, energy. She seems to be more of a context for the story than an actual character. Her interest in gardening is wonderful, but that is the ONLY dimension to her character here. At least the original Beauty was capable of having a bit of fun...
Otherwise, McKinley's language and writing is beautiful, as expected, and the supporting cast is OK, if neglected. The castle is wonderfully drawn (the rooftop painting by the Beast is especially appealing), though the march of wildlife back to the castle became a bit predictable. All in all, I'd advise fans of this particular story (Beauty and the Beast) to read this book for the sake of a different perspective. All McKinley fans, fairy-tale fans and readers in general should stick to the original.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 1998
I, like other McKinley fans of long standing, felt many trepidations about reading this new telling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. McKinley's first version (Beauty) has been a favorite of mine for years and I wasn't sure if I was ready to risk not liking one of her books or, worse yet, damaging my long-held wonder for this gorgeous fairy tale. I agonized for a bit and decided to risk it. Then I read it in one day. True, it lacks some of the fantasy-come-true elements of Beauty and some of McKinley's earlier books, but what it has instead is a realism that is utterly captivating. It is truly the work of a refined intellect, and one can clearly see the beautiful maturity of the author revealed in this book.
Everyone will of course compare this book with Beauty (I do, myself), but they are unlike in the way that wildflowers and roses are unlike. Each has spectacular lovliness, but where the wildflower is untamed beauty, the rose is cultivated, perhaps more deeply wondrous.
Which do I prefer? Both, of course.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2000
I have never read Beauty before (although I would love to) so I can't compare the two but I have to say that Rose Daughter is one of the most magical and beautiful books that I've ever come across. It is very dreamy and full of enchantment. I loved the fact that Beauty and her sisters were close in this book and I don't think it was at all overly sweet as one reviewer has said. The characters of the sisters were wonderful and I liked Beauty's character too, very quiet and practical yet not too much of a goody two shoes. My only complaint (and the reason I'm only giving four stars) would be that McKinley gives us a great atmosphere of suspense and mystery and yet the end is rather hurried and weak. I was really getting interested in the mystery of the palace and the beast and yet all the of mystery is explained by the greenwitch in a very undramatic way. It seemed the great buildup fizzled out. I was hoping for some great confrontation between the evil sorcerer and beauty and the beast yet nothing really happened and everything was not fully explained. I was also hoping for the transformation of the beast to a handsome young man but I can kind of see why McKinley's ending is just as good as the original fairy tale ending. You normally don't want the person you've fallen in love with to turn into somebody else, do you? Anyway, besides the weak ending I still think this a very good book and I can't wait to read Beauty because it is suppose to be even better.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2004
This is easily my favourite Beauty and the Beast story - the imagery and characterization outshines anything else. Beauty's sisters are given names and fleshed out...they have strengths and weaknesses, like anyone else. Roses figure heavily in the story - they are a metaphor for hidden beauty and a crucial plot point, and serve to weave everything together.

The only fault in this book is the length. It's too short, and the final explanation of the Beast's enchantment is slightly confusing and a little weak (but the tilt factor gets it five stars anyhow). In any other book, this would be a major problem. But here it's only a minor stumbling block for the nitpicky (like me)...here, the how and why of the spell are minor details. They do not detract from the overall story, which is rich and strange and beautiful. If you have a choice between reading "Beauty" and "Rose Daughter", pick this one.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2003
The beginning of this book was brilliant, in my opinion, and engaged my interest far more than Robin McKinley's original Beauty. I liked the better characterization of the sisters, the father and Beauty herself, and the world and events were far more fascinating. Where this book loses momentum is, strangely enough, when the plot gets going and Beauty meets the Beast. The scenes at the Beast's castle are incredibly slow, with large amounts of description and nothing much ever happening. The only times I felt a spark of interest again was when it returned to Jeweltongue and Lionheart, which surely shouldn't be right? The original Beauty was also quite a slow-moving book, but at least managed to track the development of the relationship between Beauty and the Beast in a believable and more interesting way. I preferred the ending of this book, of course, but found it didn't work after the poor setup. It's too hard to believe that they could fall in love in only seven days, during which they didn't even see much of each other.
I liked some of the gardening information in this book, but again, felt it was over-described, and was disappointed to see Beauty's love of books going out the window to make room for it. The descriptions of the roses worked at Rose Cottage, but not at the Beast's castle - there they just fell flat. Overall, this book had a much more fairytale feel to it than the original Beauty, but didn't tell the story nearly as economically as fairytales manage to do. In my opinion, you should read both Robin McKinley's retellings of this story, if you're interested - both have their flaws, and their strong points. Neither of them are going to be my favourite books.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2001
I enjoyed Rose Daughter very much when I read it recently. However, I didn't enjoy it as much as McKinley's earlier Beauty: A Retelling of the Story Beauty and the Beast. But, it did have more depth in many aspects of the story, such as Beauty's former family life and her love for the Beast. I did like the descriptions and depth of the book, but I felt that some of it dragged on, and I didn't enjoy the characters quite as much as those in McKinley's other books. I would recommend this book, but not as strongly as others written by McKinley.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 1998
When I first heard that McKinley had written a second retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," I was a bit skeptical. However, when I read it, I discovered that not only did she have another take was worth telling, she's also become an even better writer who had learned how to end a novel. "Beauty" was a realistic (at least, within the magic) novel; "Rose Daughter" takes place in Balladland, where a day in the enchanted castle can be a month in the world, and a rose can be the key to healing or the thorn of dispair. It's like a novel-length fairy tale.
Reading other comments, it looks like the reviewers who had such a bad reaction were looking for a fantasy adventure and were rudely surprized. They have a point -- if you gobble up Robert Jordan or can't stand a metaphor that gets in the way of the plot, don't bother with this. But if you read fantasy for the magic, for the wonder comes from the healing of the world's pain, "Rose Daughter" is a must read.
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