fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Robin McKinley The Door in the HedgeThe 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, pointless tales have nothing of the ambiguity or beauty that they could.

In “The Stolen Princess,” McKinley tells the tale of one of the last kingdoms that border the realm of Faery, and the anxiety that the residents face concerning the possible stealing of their children. This happened to the Queen’s twin sister Ellian, and now the same thing has happened to happen to their only child Linadel. The King and Queen take it upon themselves to rescue their daughter, whilst she herself awakens in the Faerie realm to greet its inhabitants. The pacing of the story is extremely slow, the “love-at-first-sight” scenario is entirely unconvincing, and the descriptions of Faerieland are unimaginative and flat — it sounds like quite a dull place actually.

“The Princess and the Frog” is a retelling of the princess who drops her golden ball and has it returned to her by a frog. Here, the Princess Rana is saved from the malevolent power of an unwelcome suitor’s necklace by a talking frog. The ending is utterly preposterous: the frog returns to his human form, and challenges the suitor Aliyander — at this stage Rana runs out of the room, down to the pond, fills a flagon with its water and rushes back to dump the whole lot on Aliyander. Presumably, since no other explanation is given, we are meant to suppose that during this lengthy interlude of running and fetching water, the two foes simply stood looking at each other, since when Rana returns neither one of them has moved. Furthermore, how Rana knows that the pond-water will destroy Aliyander is completely unexplained, and therefore comes across as random and bizarre.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews“The Hunting of the Hind” is possibly the only worthwhile read, which tells of Princess Korah, whose kingdom is plagued by the beauty of a golden hind, the very sight of which drives men into madness. When this terrible affliction lands upon her beloved brother, Korah herself goes out in search of the hind to learn its secrets. However, this story too comes to an annoying ending: the hind is under a spell, which can only be broken if a person goes to the wizard who placed the curse and asks him to remove it. But to prevent the wizard from using your inner emotions against you, one must enter his presence completely devoid of any feelings. So Korah leaves her inner emotions in the keeping of the transformed hind (err, how exactly?) and asks the wizard for her freedom. That’s it. I was expecting some sort of twist, some sort of test or trick that the young girl must go through, but no — that’s it. To top it off, McKinley throws in a brother to the golden hind to act as love-interest for Korah — why must every Princess land herself a hubby in the course of her adventures? Can’t she just have the adventure for its own sake?

Lastly is the longest story, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” which is told from the point of view of a middle-aged soldier, and is made all the better for it — by this stage I was thoroughly tired of McKinley’s flat princess-heroines. The soldier takes up the challenge of solving the mystery of the twelve princesses, whose shoes appear each morning entirely worn out, as if they have been dancing all the night long. If you have read this old fairytale, then there is nothing here that will surprise you — McKinley tells the exact same story, except she takes twice as long to do it. There is a slight shadow of intrigue with the appearance of an old woman who aids the soldier, but it’s not enough to warrant the energy I used in dragging myself through this story.

Robin McKinley is a gifted author, and I have enjoyed many of her books, but this collection just left me entirely unsatisfied. I’ve tried to give legitimate reasons as to why this is simply isn’t a worthwhile book, without simply ranting at it, and the truth is that it just felt completely devoid of any real magic or passion.


  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.