Once upon a time, a wealthy merchant had three daughters. When his business failed, he moved his daughters to the countryside. The youngest daughter, Beauty, is fascinated by the thorny stems of a mysterious plant that overwhelms their neglected cottage. She tends the plant until it blossoms with the most beautiful flowers the sisters have ever seen—roses.
Admiring the roses, an old woman tells Beauty, “Roses are for love.” And she speaks of a sorcerers’ battle many years ago that left a beast in an enchanted palace, and a curse concerning a family of three sisters . . .
The Newbery Medal–winning author’s charming retelling of the classic fairy tale weaves a tangled story of sorcery, loyalty, and love that is sure to cast a spell on readers.
About the Author
Robin McKinley has won various awards and citations for her writing, including the Newbery Medal for The Hero and the Crown, a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature for Sunshine. Her other books include the New York Times bestseller Spindle’s End; two novel-length retellings of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Beauty and Rose Daughter; Deerskin, another novel-length fairy-tale retelling, of Charles Perrault’s Donkeyskin; and a retelling of the Robin Hood legend, The Outlaws of Sherwood. She lives with her husband, the English writer Peter Dickinson; three dogs (two hellhounds and one hell terror); an 1897 Steinway upright; and far too many rosebushes.
Read an Excerpt
By Robin McKinley
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Robin McKinley
All rights reserved.
Her earliest memory was of waking from the dream. It was also her only clear memory of her mother. Her mother was beautiful, dashing, the toast of the town. Her youngest daughter remembered the blur of activity, friends and hangers-on, soothsayers and staff, the bad-tempered pet dragon on a leash—bad-tempered on account of the ocarunda leaves in his food, which prevented him from producing any more fire than might occasionally singe his wary handler, out which also upset his digestion—the constant glamour and motion which was her mother and her mother's world. She remembered peeping out at her mother from around various thresholds before various nurses and governesses (hired by her dull merchant father) snatched her away.
She remembered too, although she was too young to put it into words, the excitability, no, the restlessness of her mother's manner, a restlessness of a too-acute alertness in search of something that cannot be found. But such were the brightness and ardour of her mother's personality that those around her also were swept up into her search, not knowing it was a search, happy merely to be a part of such liveliness and gaiety.
The only thing that ever lingered was the sweet smell of her mother's perfume.
Her only memory of her mother's face was from the night she woke from the dream for the first time, crying in terror. In the dream she had been walking—she could barely walk yet in her waking life—toddling down a long dark corridor, only vaguely lit by a few candles set too far into their sconces, too high up in the walls. The shadows stretched everywhere round her, and that was terrible enough; and the silence was almost as dreadful as the darkness. But what was even worse was that she knew a wicked monster waited for her at the end of the corridor. It was the wickedest monster that had ever lived, and it was waiting just for her, and she was all alone.
She was still young enough to be sleeping in a crib with high barred sides; she remembered fastening her tiny fists round the wooden bars, whose square edges cut into her soft palms. She remembered the dream—she remembered crying—and she remembered her mother coming, and bending over her, and picking her up, whispering gently in her ear, holding her against her breast, softly stroking her back. Sitting down quietly on the nurse's stool and rocking her slowly till she fell asleep again.
She woke in her crib in the morning, just as usual. She asked her nurse where her mamma was; her nurse stared and did not believe her when she tried to tell her, in the few words she was old enough to use, that her mamma had come to her in the night when she had cried. "I'd've heard you if you yelled, miss," said the nurse stiffly. "And I slept quiet last night."
But she knew it was her mother, had to have been her mother. She remembered the sweet smell of her perfume, and no one but her mother ever wore that scent.
Her perfume smelt of flowers, but of no flowers the little girl ever found, neither in the dozens of overflowing vases set in nearly every room of their tall, magnificent town house nearly every day of the year, nor anywhere in the long scrolling curves of the flower-beds in the gardens behind the house, nor in the straight, meticulous rows within the glasshouses and orangeries behind the garden.
She once confided to a new nurse her wish to find the flower that had produced her mother's scent. She was inspired to do so when the nurse introduced herself by saying, "Hello, little one. Your daddy has told me your name, but do you know mine? It's Pansy, just like the flower. I bet you have lots of pansies in your garden."
"Yes, we do," replied the little girl politely. "And they're my favourite—almost. My favourite is a flower I do not know. It is the flower that my mother's scent comes from. I keep hoping I will find it. Perhaps you will help me."
Pansy had laughed at her, but it was a friendly laugh. "What a funny little thing you are," she said. "Fancy at your age wanting to know about perfume. You'll be a heartbreaker in a few years, I guess."
The little girl had looked at her new nurse solemnly but had not troubled to explain further. She could tell Pansy meant to be kind. It was true that she had first become interested in gardens as something other than merely places her nurses sometimes took her, in the peremptory way of grown-ups, when she had made the connexion between perfume smells and flower smells. But she had very soon discovered that she simply liked gardens.
Her mother's world—her mother's house—was very exciting, but it was also rather scary. She liked plants. They were quiet, and they stayed in the same place, but they weren't boring, like a lot of the things she was supposed to be interested in were boring, such as dolls, which just lay there unless you picked them up and did things with them (and then the chief thing you were supposed to do with them, apparently, was to change their clothes, and could there be anything more awfully, deadly boring than changing anyone's clothes any more often than one was utterly obliged to?). Plants got on with making stems and leaves and flowers and fruit, whatever you did, and a lot of them were nice to the touch: the slight attractive furriness of rabbit's-ears and Cupid's-darts, the slick waxy surfaces of camellia leaves and ivy—and lots of them had beautiful flowers, which changed both shape and colour as they opened, and some of them smelt interesting, even if none of them smelt like her mother's perfume. And then there were things like apples and grapes, which were the best things in the world when you could break them off from the stem yourself and eat them right there.
From the nurses' point of view, the youngest girl was the least trouble of the three. She neither went out seeking mischief, the more perilous the better, the way the eldest did, nor answered impertinently (and with a vocabulary alarmingly beyond her age), the way the second did. Her one consistent misbehaviour, tiresome enough indeed as it was, and which no amount of punishment seemed able to break her of, was that of escaping into the garden the moment the nurse's eye was diverted, where she would later be found, digging little holes and planting things—discarded toys (especially dolls), half-eaten biscuits, dead leaves, and dry twigs—singing to herself, and covering her white pinafores and stockings with dirt. None of the nurses ever noticed that the twigs, were they left where she planted them, against all probability, grew. One old gardener noticed, and because he was old and considered rather silly, he had the time to spend making the little girl's acquaintance.
Nurses never lasted long. Despite the care taken and the warnings given to keep the nurses in the nurseries, eventually some accident of meeting occurred with the merchant's wife, and the latest nurse, immediately found to be too slow or too dowdy or too easily bewildered to suit, was fired. When Pansy came to say good-bye, she said, "I have to go away. Don't cry, lovey, it's just the way it is. But I wanted to tell you: It's roses your mum's perfume smells of. Roses. No, you don't have 'em here. It's generally only sorcerers who can get 'em to grow much. The village I was born in, we had a specially clever greenwitch, and she had one, just one, but it was heaven when it bloomed. That's how I know. But it takes barrels of petals to make perfume enough to fill a bottle the size of your littlest fingertip—that's why the sorcerers are interested, see, I never knew a sorcerer wasn't chiefly out to make money—your pa's paying a queen's ransom for it, I can tell you that."
When the youngest daughter was five years old, her mother died. She had bet one of her hunting friends she could leap a half-broken colt over a farm cart. She had lost the bet and broken her neck. The colt broke both forelegs and had to be shot.
The whole city mourned, her husband and two elder daughters most of all. The youngest one embarrassed her family at the funeral by repeating, over and over, "Where is my mamma? Where is my mamma?"
"She is too young to understand," said the grieving friends and acquaintances, and patted her head, and embraced the husband and the elder girls.
A well-meaning greenwitch offered the father a charm for his youngest daughter. "She'll work herself into a fever, poor little thing," the woman said, holding the little bag on its thin ribbon out to him. "You just hang it round her neck—I'd do it myself, but it'll work better coming from your hands—and she'll know her mamma's gone, but it won't hurt till she's a little more ready for it. It'll last three, four months if you don't let it get wet."
But the merchant knocked the small bundle out of the woman's hand with a cry of rage, and might have struck the greenwitch herself—despite the bad luck invariably attendant on any violence offered any magic practitioner—if those standing nearest had not held him back. The startled greenwitch was hustled away, someone explaining to her in an undertone that the merchant was a little beside himself, that grief had made him so unreasonable that he blamed his wife's soothsayers for not having warned her against her last, fatal recklessness, and had for the moment turned against all magic. Even her pet dragon had been given away.
The greenwitch allowed herself to be hustled. She was a kindly woman, but not at all grand—greenwitches rarely were—and had known the family at all only because she had twice or three times found the youngest daughter in a flowerbed in one of the city's municipal parks and returned her to her distracted nurse. She gave one little backward glance to that youngest daughter, who was still running from one mourner to the next and saying, "Where is my mamma? Where is my mamma?"
"I don't like to think of the little thing's dreams," murmured the greenwitch, but her escort had brought her to the cemetery gate and turned her loose, with some propelling force, and the greenwitch shook her head sadly but went her own way.
The night of her mother's funeral her youngest daughter had the dream for the second time. She was older in the dream just as she was in life; older and taller, she spoke in complete sentences and could run without falling down. None of this was of any use to her in the dream. The candles were still too high overhead to cast anything but shadows; she was still all alone, and the unseen monster waited, just for her.
After that she had the dream often.
At first, when she cried out for her mamma, the nurses were sympathetic, but as the months mounted up to a year since the funeral, and no more than a week ever passed before another midnight waking, another sobbing cry of "Mamma! Mamma!" the nurses grew short-tempered. The little girl learnt not to cry out, but she still had the dream.
And she eluded her protectresses more often than ever and crept out into the garden, where the old gardener (keeping a wary eye out for the descent of a shrieking harpy from the nursery) taught her how better to plant things, and which things to plant, and what to do to make them happy after they were planted.
She grew old enough to try to flee, and so discover that this did her no good in the dream; it was the same dark, silent, sinister corridor, without windows or doors, the same unknown, expectant monster, whichever way she turned. And then she discovered she had never really tried to run away at all, that she was determined to follow the corridor to its end, to face the monster. And that was the most terrifying thing of all.
She wondered, as they all three grew up, if it was the dream itself that made her so different from her sisters. They were all beautiful; all three took after their mother. But the eldest one was as brave as she had been, and her name was Lionheart; the second one was as clever as she had been, and her name was Jeweltongue. The youngest was called Beauty.
Beauty adopted the nerve-shattered horses, the dumbly confused and despairing dogs that Lionheart left in her wake. She found homes for them with quiet, timid, dull people—as well as homes for barn-loft kittens, canaries which wouldn't sing, parrots which wouldn't talk, and sphinxes which curled up into miserable little balls in the backs of their cages and refused to be goaded into fighting.
She brought cups of tea with her own hands to wounded swains bleeding from cries of "Coward!" and "Lackwit!" and offered her own handkerchiefs to maidservants and costumiers found weeping in corners after run-ins with Jeweltongue. She found tactful things to say to urgent young playwrights who wished to be invited to Jeweltongue's salons, and got rid of philanthropists who wished Jeweltongue to apply her notorious acuteness—and perhaps some of the family's money—to schemes towards the improvement of the general human lot.
She also kept an eye on the household accounts, to make sure that the calfbound set of modern philosophy Jeweltongue had ordered contained all the twenty volumes she was charged for, that all twenty sets of horseshoes the farrier included in his bill had indeed been nailed to the feet of Lionheart's carriage teams and hunters, and that the twenty brace of pheasant delivered for a dinner-party were all served to their guests.
On some days, when it seemed to her that everyone she met was either angry or unhappy, she would go out into the garden and hide. She had learned to avoid the army of gardeners, run by an ambitious head gardener who was as forceful and dominating as any general—or rather, she had never outgrown her child's instinct to drop quietly out of sight when a grown-up moving a little too purposefully was nearby. As soon as she stepped out onto the lawn, she felt tranquillity drift down over her like a veil; and almost as though it were a veil, or as if she had suddenly become a plant herself (a tidy, well-shaped, well-placed plant of a desirable colour and habit, for anything else would have drawn attention at once), she was rarely noticed by the gardeners, hurrying this way and that with military precision, even when they passed quite close to her.
The old gardener who had been kind to her when she was small had been pensioned off and lived in a cottage at some distance from their great house, on the outskirts of the city, where the farmlands began and where he had his own small garden for the first time in his long life. A few times a year she found half a day to go visit him—once with a convalescent puppy who had been stepped on by a carriage horse—but she missed having him in the garden.
Once she arranged the flowers for one of her sisters' balls. This was ordinarily the housekeeper's job. Her sisters felt that flower arranging was a pastime for servants or stupid people; Beauty felt that flowers belonged in the garden where they grew. But on the morning of this party the housekeeper had fallen downstairs and sprained her ankle, and was in too much pain to do anything but lie in a darkened room and run the legs off the maid assigned to attend her.
Beauty looked at the poor flowers standing in their buckets of cold water, and at the array of noble vases laid out for them, and began to arrange them, only half aware of what she was about, while her sisters were rushing around the house shouting (in Lionheart's case) or muttering savagely (in Jeweltongue's) while they attended to what should have been the housekeeper's other urgent duties on the day of an important party. Most of Beauty's mind was occupied with what the night's events would bring; she would much rather scrub a floor—not that she ever had scrubbed a floor, but she assumed it would be hard, dull, unpleasant work—than attend a ball, which was hard, dull, unpleasant work that didn't even have a clean floor to show for it afterwards.
Neither Lionheart nor Jeweltongue at best paid much attention to flowers, beyond the fact that one did of course have to have them, as one had place settings for seventy-five and a butler to cherish the wine; but when they came downstairs to have a final look at the front hall and the dining-room, even they were astonished by what Beauty had done.
"My saints!" said Lionheart. "If the conversation flags, we can look at the flowers!"
"The conversation will not flag," said Jeweltongue composedly, "but that is not to say that Beauty has not done miracles," and she patted her sister's shoulder absently, as one might pat a dog.
Excerpted from Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley. Copyright © 1997 Robin McKinley. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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What People are Saying About This
“Dazzling…has the power to exhilarate.”—Publishers Weekly
“Luxuriant…the story is full of silvery images.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Every sentence and every occurrence seems infused by magic.”—Fantasy & Science Fiction