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Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley lives in Hampshire, England with her husband, author Peter Dickinson. Read excerpts of her novels at Robin McKinley’s website.
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Beauty: We are divided on this one!

Beauty by Robin McKinley

I hate writing negative reviews, especially for books that are obviously both loved and respected. Beauty appeals to a lot of people, and you may well want to disregard my opinion and go with the majority. But for what it's worth, I can't quite bring myself to recommend Beauty for those of you out there who enjoy reading novels in the fairytale genre.

To McKinley's credit, Beauty was written before the sudden demand in retold/fractured/fleshed-out fairytales. In fact, she may have very well started the trend with this novelisation of the traditional Beauty and the Beast story. But these days, authors tend to put a spin on the source material. For example, Donna Jo Napoli often gets the villain's side of the story, as she does in Spinners Read More

The Door in the Hedge: Nothing exceptional

The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley

Despite an interesting title and a beguiling title page, I honestly found nothing exceptional about Robin McKinley's collection of four fairytales. Whether her stories are original or retold, they are rather dull, predictable, and written with long-winded language that makes for sluggish reading. All are centered on the interactions between this world and that of Faerieland — or to be more specific, the interactions between young princesses and the inhabitants of Faerieland. None of these girls are individuals, instead they are cast straight from the princess stereotype and all the stories end on a slightly sickly-sweet note with each dilemma that the girls' face wrapped up in a nice little bow. Faerieland is not seen as a wild and elusive place, but as a pretty sparkling land with none of the depth or hidden meaning that fairytales are meant to have. They are sweet, pretty, Read More

The Blue Sword: Strong female lead, interesting moral conundrum

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

This, my friends, is how young adult fantasy is done. In The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley has created a world out of whole cloth and polished it until it shines. Or in this case, until it is a dusty desert full of horse riding warriors, a dwindling magic, demon barbarians invading from the north, and civilized white men invading from across the ocean. McKinley is a master of prose, and this book has stood the test of time for almost 25 years now.

The Blue Sword is the story of Harry Crewe — don’t you dare call her by her given name of Angharad — who, upon the death of her parents, is sent to live at a fort on the Homeland frontier with her brother who is in the colonial army. Unlike most of the colonists, Harry is fascinated by the desert, and when Corlath, the leader of the Free Hillfolk of Damar, comes to the Homeland fort to negotiate for a... Read More

The Hero and the Crown: This award-winning YA has aged well

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

Aerin cannot remember a time when she did not know the story. The tale of how her mother, a witchwoman from the north, had ensorcelled her father, the king, and bewitched him into marrying her so that she could bear a son to inherit the kingdom. When Aerin was born, her mother turned her face to the wall, and died of grief. Rejected by many of the royal court for her suspect lineage, and feared by the average person for the same reason, Aerin struggles to find her place in the court, and to fulfill the destiny she can feel guiding her.

A beautifully written, lyrical fairy tale, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley is a prequel to The Blue Sword, and tells the history of one of the progenitors of Harimad-Sol, the heroine of that tale. Aerin, a mistrusted princess, wants to find some meaning to her life, and sets out to ... Read More

A Knot in the Grain: An engaging collection of five fantasies

A Knot in the Grain by Robin McKinley

I’m not sure if I bought this fantasy short story collection by Robin McKinley when I first saw it in the mid-1990s because McKinley was one of my favorite fantasy authors or because I was entranced by the cover art on the paperback, with the colorful contrast between the girl in a brilliant sapphire dress and the bright gold background of buttercups. Actually, at that time I was pretty much automatically buying everything McKinley wrote. Regardless, I very much enjoyed the collection of five fantasy short stories, and have reread them several times since. These tales are set in different lands and, for the most part, different worlds, but they are bound together by the fantasy element and their young women protagonists. As a whole, I rate this collection 4 stars, but I’ve given each story its own rating below. Read More

The Outlaws of Sherwood: A strong contender in an overstuffed genre

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley

Robin Longbow, a lowly apprentice to the forester of Nottingham Forest, is on the way to Nottingham fair when he is waylaid by bullies. After he accidentally kills one of them, he is forced to flee and go into hiding. If he’s discovered by the sheriff of Nottingham, he’ll be hung by the regent who is sitting in for King Richard the Lionheart while he’s away fighting in Palestine.

But Robin’s friends Much and Marian see Robin’s exile as an opportunity to strike back at the regent and his Norman allies. They convince Robin to gather and lead a band of ragtag Saxon rebels against their enemies. Thus, Robin Hood becomes a symbol and a rallying point for Saxon resistance against Norman tyranny.

The Outlaws of Sherwood is a strong contender in the overstuffed Robin-Hood-legends genre. Read More

Deerskin: McKinley seduces us

Deerskin by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley sure knows how to use the English language. We are in her spell from the beginning. Deerskin commences with Lissar's nurse telling her a fairy tale — but the fairy tale is the story of how Lissar's larger-than-life parents met. She is told from the very cradle what paragons her mother and father are, and yet she herself is ignored by them. McKinley seduces us with the the magical kingdom's rarefied beauty and glamour — and also the coldness and rot at its core. When Lissar flees, we are shown, with the same deftness, an inhospitable wilderness. And when she finds the kingdom of Cofta, we can't help but notice the difference between it and Lissar's old home; it is more pompous in its architecture, but filled with human warmth. McKinley is equally at home in the throne room and in the dog kennels, and she makes all of it real for us, as Lissar, with the help of the Moonwoman,... Read More

Rose Daughter: McKinley’s second rendition of Beauty and the Beast

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

Can a beast who loves roses so much be so very terrible?

It's been years since I read and reviewed Robin McKinley's Beauty, her first rendition of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Despite the book's popularity, I wasn't particularly moved by it, and ended my review saying that I was looking forward to experiencing her second retelling of the same story, seeing how an author would approach the same material the second time around.

Well, it took me a while (though not as long as the twenty years between each book's publication) but I've finally tracked down and read Rose Daughter. So how does it measure up with its predecessor? On the whole, I enjoyed it a lot more. The prose is more polished (insofar as I could recall Beauty) and the story itself more sophistica... Read More

Spindle’s End: A light, sweet, unhurried fantasy

Reposting to include Tadiana's review.

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

Spindle’s End (2000) is Robin McKinley’s delightful and very loose retelling of the Sleeping Beauty (Little Briar Rose) fairy tale.

On the princess’s naming day, a bad fairy declares a curse, stating that, on her 21st birthday, the princess will prick her finger on a spindle and die. In an attempt to thwart the curse, a good fairy named Katriona takes the princess to live with her aunt in a swampy region called Foggy Bottom. There, without any knowledge of her true heritage, Rosie grows up happily with human and animal companions while her mother, the Queen, pines for her lost daughter.

After the opening scenes in which the princess is cursed, Spindles’ End Read More

Sunshine: Rebecca throws in the towel

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

I do not know what I have given you tonight...

My strange and frustrating relationship with the books of Robin McKinley continues. Pretend that there's a picture hanging on your wall. Everyone who sees it raves about it: the colours, the texture, the composition, the style. People want copies of it so that they can pass it around. Everyone loves staring at it for hours on end. But as try as you might, and as much as you can recognize the skill that went into painting it, it just doesn't appeal to you. You're not even sure why, so you keep staring at it in a futile attempt to find out. Such is my relationship with McKinley's books.

I know she's a good writer. She's got the fans and the awards to prove it. Clearly I'm the person with the problem, right? And yet try as I might, and as much as I want to, I just can't connect with her characters or he... Read More

Chalice: Beauty and the Beast for young adults

Chalice by Robin McKinley

A beautiful fairytale for the YA reader, Chalice is a very loose reinterpretation of a Beauty and the Beast story. Mirasol is a beekeeper who is forced to become the Chalice for her demesne after the previous Chalice and Master are killed in an accident. Her role is to bind her abused land back together and to the new Master, a Priest of Fire, a being who isn’t quite human and can burn both the land and human flesh with the barest touch. Uniquely, her source of magical power is the honey she makes with her bees.

Honey serves a central role in the story, and is also a good descriptor for the story for it’s a sweet tale, and moves slowly along. Mirasol is believable as a humble woodswoman forced into the second most powerful role in her country by magical forces beyond her control and is struggling to find her way. The pacing suffers at times, with jum... Read More

Fire: Five enjoyable stories by McKinley & Dickinson

Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits by Robin McKinley & Peter Dickinson

Let me start by saying I’ve never been much for short stories. It’s not that they can’t be well done, and I admit that it takes a huge talent to do them well, but I usually find myself frustrated and wanting more. Probably because I am used to reading full-length novels. That being said, I enjoyed reading Fire. There are five stories, two by Robin McKinley and three by Peter Dickinson. I’m a huge fan of McKinley, but this is the first time I’ve read anything by Dickinson.

Because they are short stories, it is hard to share much about them without giving away the wonder of reading them. In order then:

“Phoenix” — I liked th... Read More

Pegasus: Pages and pages of nothingness

Pegasus by Robin McKinley

Humans came to this land generations ago. There they formed an alliance with the pegasi, defending them from evil creatures in exchange for shelter in Pegasus lands. As a sign of the alliance, members of the royal families of both races are magically bound together when the human comes of age. These ceremonies are performed by the Speakers, the only humans who can understand Pegasus speech, until at the binding of Princess Sylvi and Ebon, when they discover they can understand each other perfectly. This threatens to upset the balance of power between the two kingdoms and break the Speakers’ hold on power, which some people will do anything to prevent.

It pains me to write DNF reviews for authors I love. I started Robin McKinley’s Pegasus about six weeks ago. I could read for a few minutes, and then I would stop. Because I was bored. The people bore me. The pe... Read More

Shadows: Young Adult fantasy at its best and worst

Shadows by Robin McKinley

Shadowshas all the beloved elements of a Robin McKinley novel: the strong female lead, the endearing team of animals and talismans, the never-quite-articulated magic, the laconic romance, and the tendency to give characters one-syllable names. For those familiar pieces alone, Shadows is worth reading. But McKinley’s horizons are smaller than they used to be, and fit more easily into the bounds of young adult fiction.

When we meet Maggie, she’s a sulky, quiet teenager who volunteers as the local animal shelter and spouts unlikely future-slang (loophead, dreeping, dead battery). Her widowed mother has recently remarried an enigmatic man named Val, whose shadow moves eerily and hugely around him. As Maggie tiptoes fearfully around Val, we are introduced to her world in a series of rambling mo... Read More