Ah, so many people think this is McKinley's worst book--and maybe it has less mass appeal than, say, SUNSHINE, or THE BLUE SWORD--but honestly I think ROSE DAUGHTER is a masterpiece. I sometimes wonder if it's even possible to publish this kind of literary, conflict-less, messy and lyrical and contemplative work these days, and it gives me great joy to re-read this treasure from the past. Just the fact that it exists is a triumph.
Apart from the sheer pleasure of the story, if you are a writer who is interested in books that break all the rules, if you're studying examples of alternate ways of pacing, or 'conflict' or whatever, this book is one I would hold up as feminist, disabled, even in some ways anti-Western (for all it takes as its seed a French fairy tale). It will teach you a lot about how to write in those directions. If you've ever heard that Joanna Russ quote (was it Joanna Russ?) about how the traditional structure of a novel is patterned after the male orgasm and you've never been able to read anything with three-act structure since without quietly snickering at it in the back of your head, if you're exploring the ways the experience of a long, serious illness that persists and persists shapes our opinions on story pacing, this is your book.
(McKinley's work is full of people experiencing the fantasy equivalent of long, serious illnesses, of course, meaning, mostly, just actual serious illnesses but sometimes metaphorical ones--read THE HERO AND THE CROWN and try to imagine an Aerin not made weak and dizzy and half-blind by magical misadventure in her teens. Hell, read DEERSKIN. But in ROSE DAUGHTER she fully embraces that experience, inhabiting the chronically ill life: today my cosmic heroic struggle is that I will go out to the garden and prune the roses and see a hedgehog; tomorrow my magical life-saving struggle is that I will put compost on the roses and look into the woods. In the end, well, no spoilers, but persistence in the face of weariness is necessary and rewarded--something she passes on to the reader, deftly, for there is some weariness in this reading experience. And it is rewarded, if you persist.)
Anyway. Robin McKinley remains one of the greats, someone I think of as my literary ancestor. 5/5 stars for ROSE DAUGHTER.