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Robin McKinley – Rose Daughter

December 24, 2008

158. Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (1997)

Length: 292 pages
Genre: Fantasy (fairy tale retelling)

Started: 22 December 2008
Finished: 23 December 2008

How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 August 2008
Verdict? Stays on the shelves for now, but it’s in danger if I start getting low on BookMooch points.

Robin’s recipe
for a fairy tale: when in
doubt, add more roses!

Summary: In this retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story, Beauty is the youngest of three daughters who move with their father into a small cottage surrounded by roses. When their father gets lost in a blizzard and takes shelter in a mysterious castle, the Beast that lives there demands that his daughter return to the castle in exchange for the rose that the father inadvertantly stole. Because the Beast’s roses are dying, and it appears that only Beauty can save the roses – and thereby the Beast.

Review: I had a serious case of mistaken identity for the first twenty pages or so of this book. I read McKinley’s retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”, Beauty, about a year ago, and clearly she wasn’t just going to tell the same story over again, so I was under the impression that Rose Daughter was a sequel – presumably following the story of Beauty’s daughter. Wrong! So wrong! Rose Daughter really is just another retelling, with some elements obviously reworked, but following the same basic story lines we all already know.

I made this point in my review of Beauty, but I think there’s a distinction to be made between retellings of fairy tales, and reinterpretations of fairy tales. Rose Daughter is clearly the former, but I think I much prefer the latter – if I’m going to read a story I know by heart, there needs to be some unique twist, some new perspective, some kind of hook to catch my attention (done effectively with the Beauty and the Beast tale in Mercedes Lackey’s The Fire Rose). In Rose Daughter, however, the only distinguishing feature for most of the book is a preponderance of roses, and rose petals, and rose interior decorating, and rose smell, and rose gardening, ad nauseum.

The writing is lush and descriptive, and (if you’ll pardon the somewhat obvious pun) enchanting – it effectively put me into the dream-like feeling of being in a darkly magical castle. Unfortunately, all of that lush description is gets somewhat wearing after a while. Beauty is alone with the invisible magic “helpers” for most of the story, so there is little dialogue in most chapters, and we all know how the basic thread of the story runs, so there’s not enough action to break up yet more paragraphs about the scent of roses. I wasn’t particularly interested or involved with any of the characters either, so sadly I wound up skimming large swaths of description. Because the roses? Are symbolic roses. And are described at great lengths. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Fans of McKinley’s prose style will probably have a different reaction, but there wasn’t enough that was new here to hold my attention through all of the rose talk.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Becky’s Book Reviews, Mervi’s Book Reviews
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Her earliest memory was of waking from the dream.


  • p. 97: “She had only the briefest impression of a portrait of a dauntingly grand lady in an extravagantly furbelowed frame, hanging on the first turn of the corridor beyond the door, before she rushed past it.” – decorated with a ruffle or flounce.


  • p. 105: “(And see! The nails are as long as your fingers, shining and curved like crescent moons, the tips sharp as poignards . . . )” – a lightweight dagger employed in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Also spelled “poniard”.
  • p. 201: “She curtsid to the painting of the bowl of fruit, which today hung opposite the lady who used to hold a pug dog, and then a fan, and now a bit of needlework in a tambour; Beauty examined her after her impertinent curtsy, and the lady looked stiff and offended, but then she always did.” – also called tabaret; a circular frame consisting of two hoops, one fitting within the other, in which cloth is stretched for embroidering. (didn’t know this had a name other than “embroidery hoop”.)
  • p. 207: “Still her heart was heavy, and she tried to find the path through the wood that had led her to the parterre, the grand front facade of the Beast’s palace; but she could not.” – an ornamental arrangement of flower beds of different shapes and sizes.
12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 24, 2008 8:36 am

    I prefer the latter too. And I think I’m going to skip this one. Yours is not the first negative review I see. McKinley really seems to be a hit or miss author. So far I’ve been lucky with her, but this one sounds like a miss.

  2. December 24, 2008 9:42 am

    I haven’t read this book yet, but I like both retellings and reinterpretations! Sometimes I prefer retellings, and at other times I prefer re-worked fairy tales. I read your review of the Fire Rose, though, and it made me want to get the book! :D

  3. December 24, 2008 1:49 pm

    Nymeth – That’s actually good (for me) that she’s a hit or miss author… this one was a disappointment, and I wasn’t particularly bowled over by Beauty, so I was getting a little bit leery of the two McKinley books I still have on the TBR pile (Spindle’s End and Sunshine), but I guess I’ll stay optimistic.

    marineko – I really enjoyed The Fire Rose – it’s a reinterpretation done right, plus just generally an enjoyable fantasy/historical fiction/romance mash-up.

  4. December 24, 2008 4:59 pm

    I wish you the best in this holiday season, full of joy and memories, and a healthy, bookish new year! Merry Christmas! :)

  5. December 24, 2008 9:04 pm

    I read this one ages ago, when it first came out, I guess, and while my memory of it is a bit hazy, I remember enjoying it – and I have no recollection of annoying rose passages! Although I bet they’d bug me now if I reread it. :-) Sorry this was disappointing. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts on the two others when you get to them.

  6. December 27, 2008 2:13 am

    I liked Rose Daughter, but wasn’t as thrilled with it as some of McKinley’s other books. Like Daria D, I don’t remember the excessive rose parts, and it’s been ages since I read it–and I only read it once (though I’ve read some of her others several times). I’d skip Spindle’s End, too, which I was also had tepid feelings about, but do read some of her others. Remember, I highly recommend Deerskin.

  7. December 27, 2008 6:10 pm

    Darla – Maybe if I were a gardener, I’d have been more sympathetic to all of the rose bits. :)

    Jena – I’ve heard a lot of good things about Sunshine, so I’m pretty optimistic about it. Haven’t heard anything about Deerskin before, though – I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. The good news is that one way or another, McKinley’s books don’t take me particularly long to read, so I can plow through them even if they’re not exactly doing it for me.

  8. December 29, 2008 10:34 am

    Sounds like a book that I would stay away from.

  9. December 30, 2008 9:35 am

    Serena – Yeah, I know McKinley has her fans, but this one just didn’t do anything for me.


  1. The Literary Horizon: The Bloody Chamber, Rose Daughter « The Literary Omnivore
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