I always love a good fantasy novel, and Robin McKinley usually does not disappoint. Beauty was absolutely wonderful, Dragonhaven I loved until the very end when it got a bit wonky, and I disliked the slight raciness of either The Blue Sword or The Hero and the Crown (I forget which) but her fantasy is well written and generally fantastic. That being said, something about Rose Daughter fell a bit flat.
The premise is this: a wealthy merchant has three daughters, the youngest named Rose. His wife dies in a foolish accident, after which the merchant angrily banishes all magic of any kind from his household. After his wife’s death his business affairs decline so greatly that, upon the announcement of his failure, the young men engaged to marry his two eldest daughters promptly retract their offers. The family must learn to make do without servants, and Rose, ever the industrious one, sorts through her father’s business papers and finds something about a cottage which her family has inherited. With nothing left for them in the village, the family travels to what is ironically called Rose Cottage. They live there peacefully for quite a while, until one day the merchant finds that there may yet be some money left for him. He journeys back to the city, then returns to Rose Cottage–monetarily disappointed–months later. On his way back, the merchant gets caught in a snowstorm and takes refuge in a strange castle. While there, he pockets a rose so that he might take it to his daughter, but the owner of the castle, the Beast, becomes angry, and says that in return for the rose the merchant must send one of his daughters to live in the castle. Without question it is Rose who volunteers to go, and she finds herself coming to care for the Beast, in addition to fixing up the castle gardens and greenhouse. She learns that the beast was really a man, and that to break the curse on the castle and keep him from becoming a true brute animal, she must make a decision.
It is the false dichotomy of the decision that let me down. Rose was given two choices: either Beast could return to his original human form, and they could rule the surrounding lands from his castle and be known by people everywhere; or Beast would remain in his current form and return with her to the village. She chooses the second option. Her rationale was, after learning from the witch who was giving her these options that the couple would be feared and not loved if they remained in the castle, that even good people can let power go to their head. So, as much as I admire the fact that she understands that power can corrupt and that she can love Beast whether he is handsome or not, I do not like the fact that he remains a beast forever. Beast (we do not learn his name) is in reality human, and it is always better for any creature to be what it truly is. There is also no real basis given for her decision: why only these two choices? Why couldn’t she choose to have him return to human form and rule in the castle, and then decide not to stay in the castle and simply return to the village? And, as many other online reviewers have stated, the whole explanation of the curse is convoluted, confusing, and altogether weak.
So, rating? 2 out of 5 stars
The book sometimes rambled on a bit, what precisely the curse entailed was unclear, and the ending was disappointing. Read if you want, but not something I’d reread.