Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley
So I had some issues with Robin McKinley’s first go at “Beauty and the Beast”, Beauty. The pacing was borked, the characterization was off, and I just couldn’t get why it was so beloved. I ended that review by promising myself I’d investigate Rose Daughter, McKinley’s second go at the fairy tale, as I’ve been assured it’s better than Beauty. (Charmingly, McKinley threatens to have a third go in twenty years in the afterword—which would be 2016…) It’s taken me two years to get around to it, but I finally picked up after the end of my academic semester. And I was right. It is way better than Beauty.
Series? Or Stand-alone books?
Oh, series. I was organizing my Review Directory by series yesterday, and I’d just like to take a moment to tell non-speculative fiction authors that a snappy title for a series works wonders; compare and contrast His Dark Materials and The Karen Vail Novels. If it has an internal chronology, it’s a series; own it! Love it!
But the thing is, series are hard to do, and many authors screw it up. Ideally, each installment in a series ought to be a standalone novel—yeah, it makes more sense and works better when read as part as the series, but you should be able to pick up Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and be able to follow along and enjoy that novel’s story. The novel is the basic unit of a series, and it irritates me to no end to see authors think that splitting manuscripts in two is how you do it. It’s not—the only author I’ve see pull this off successfully is Jacqueline Carey in The Sundering, and she paid attention to pacing and structure to pull it off. I was hugely disappointed when The Innocent Mage and Pegasus pulled this. On her website, Robin McKinley called the sequel to Pegasus “a sequel like THE RETURN OF THE KING is a sequel to THE TWO TOWERS“, which I’ve always found flippant, considering The Lord of the Rings is a single novel. In fact, with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien does a series right—they’re richer in tandem, but aren’t required to understand each other.
I guess I do prefer standalone novels—in series or one-shots.
Fairy tales are ripe for retellings, the publishing industry’s kinder, gentler way of referring to fanfiction of all stripes. I certainly read plenty of them, but I still have plenty on the old reading list.
The discovery that Robin McKinley’s Pegasus was the first half of a novel floored me; yes, I thought the ending was abrupt, but the idea that Robin McKinley, a much loved author who could probably get away with publishing a hearty, predator-repulsing tome, found the “freller too fricking long” to the point that she thought it better to hack a novel in half (her word! Not mine!) kind of threw me for a loop. (To be fair, Ms. McKinley does have deadlines to reach.) In fact, she describes Pegasus’s eventual sequel to be analogous to the way The Return of the King is the sequel to The Two Towers, which is to say not a sequel at all, but the rest of the story. It’s almost as infuriating as the term “literary fiction” to be quite honest. As the very wise Brian Cronin puts it, “serialized fiction is judged – as a whole, yes, but also as each part individually”. This sort of amputation has been running wild through speculative fiction recently–so much so, in fact, that it’s time I stopped complaining and listened–does this sort of thing suggest that some authors ought to go in for serialized novels instead of traditional ones?
(To preface, I am not talking about publishers deciding to separate out a novel, such as the overseas publications of some of the novels in A Song of Fire and Ice and The Lord of the Rings, which, if you’ve been paying attention, is a single novel. I’m talking about authors making that decision for themselves.)
Pegasus by Robin McKinley
My track record with Robin McKinley prior to Pegasus was one out of two; I loved Sunshine but loathed Beauty. In fact, when I requested this ARC, I mentioned this as a selling point to prove that I was objective. (It clearly worked!) Since I rarely see pegasi in fantasy fiction, Pegasus intrigued me; and because I have never seen fully sentient pegasi in fantasy before, I had to pick it up.
Today, I am moving back to college. Naturally, I’ve been concerned about packing my school things (do my folders match?) to packing my clothes (how exactly does one say military chic while despairing of the heat?), but I’ve also been concerned about my books. This year, I’m taking a course on Jane Austen, and I now own her entire canon, which feels odd, to say the least. I’m also taking a class on Shakespeare and race, which demands several volumes. And let’s not even talk about my textbook for my pre-1700s English literature course. It’s practically a weapon.
But my main concern is, which books should I take for personal reading?
Name a book or author that you truly wanted to love but left you disappointed. (And, of course, explain why.)
My God, there’s so many!
Well, books first, I guess. I quite wanted to enjoy Robin McKinley’s Beauty, because I enjoyed Sunshine so much, but it fell absolutely flat for me. All the praise for Maus made me want to read it and enjoy it, but the main conceit ruined it for me. I even wanted to like The Historian, my go-to example of a bloated novel where the author is showing off research more than story.
As far as authors go, Gregory Maguire sprung to mind. I love him for Wicked and Son of a Witch, but his other works are just terrible. I have no idea what happened there. And I don’t recall ever wanting to love Kurt Vonnegut, but reading Slaughterhouse-Five in high school has put me off him forever.
Basically, whenever a book fails me, I’m disappointed. In a perfect universe, every book I read would be good. (Also, there would be less romance in YA books with female heroines.) But sometimes that disappointment makes for writing fun reviews, and it’s also instructional–a big “DON’T DO THIS” sign for writers. No matter how disappointed you are, it’s still useful. (I still won’t shut up about The Historian!)
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Beauty was the first Robin McKinley novel I was ever aware of. My high school library had a copy, and it was one of the first books on the reading list, as it is recommended in Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust. I actually rented Sunshine, which I thoroughly enjoyed, because I couldn’t find Beauty at my local library. Unbeknownst to me, it was published long before the young adult category existed, in 1978, and so was shelved with the children’s books. Feeling a need to temper a library pile that was weirdly missing fantasy, I tossed it on the pile the last time I visited my library. Unfortunately, it’s another beloved book that didn’t work for me.
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
I wondered how King Cophetua’s beggar-maid had felt when the palace gates had first opened for her. But there was little resemblance between us; she had a king in love with her, because of her innate nobility, and a beauty that sparkled even through her rags.
pg. 106 of Beauty by Robin McKinley.
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT with either the link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your 2 ‘teasers’ in a comment here (if you don’t have a blog). Thanks!
In the late nineties and early aughts, the big literary sensations for the kids were Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. While The Lord of the Rings is in a league of its own (The Sunday Times is famously quoted as describing the “English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them”), Harry Potter is truly a sensation of my generation. Once, while in a thrift store, I picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone and realized my future niece or nephew will never experience the books like I did- it’ll probably fall to me to make sure they read the books at the appropriate ages. No nine year old is ready for Deathly Hallows, methinks.
But there’s one series that was around at the same time that I think only I loved among my circle of friends –The Royal Diaries.