by Robin McKinley
Newbery medal-winning author Robin McKinley is well-known for her
novel-length adaptations of fairy tales, such as Deerskin, Beauty, and
Rose Daughter. This wonderful fantasy book is her version of "The
It takes place in a certain country where magic settles out of the air
like dust, and where some people--fairies and magicians--make a living
controlling the rambunctious magic that permeates everything. In that
country, a king and queen invite 21 fairies to be godparents to their
long-hoped-for infant daughter. But on the child's nameday, a wicked
fairy named Pernicia turns up uninvited and puts a curse on the child.
On or perhaps before her 21st birthday, goes the curse, the princess
will prick her finger on a spindle's end and fall into a sleep from
which there will be no waking.
Katriona, a 15-year-old apprentice fairy from the small village of Foggy
Bottom in the backward corner of the land known as the Gig, having been
selected by lottery to attend the princess' name-day, witnesses this
dreadful curse...and impulsively intervenes. Before she quite knows what
she has gotten herself into, Katriona is fleeing from the capital city
with a stolen, infant princess in her arms, using her ability to talk to
the animals to provide the child with milk. Then, aided by her Aunt, she
raises Rosie herself.
The princess grows up to be a headstrong, active young woman, whose gift
of talking to animals surpasses that of any fairy, and whose greatest
success is to befriend the tightlipped village smith, Narl. While
soldiers, wizards, and rumors circulate throughout the country trying
to save the princess from a curse that is still in search of her, an unconcerned Rosie
grows up to be a horse-leech, a whittler of the
knobby, ornamental, wooden kind of spindle-ends that have become
fashionable since that dreadful name-day, and best friend to a lovely
wainwright's niece named Peony. She hasn't the slightest idea of who she
is or what her destiny may be.
But the long-lost princess' one-and-twentieth birthday draws nearer, and
as it does so, menacing signs multiply. Finally a mysterious messenger,
reciting a cradle-rhyme as a secret password, comes to unmask Rosie to
herself and to the world, and to prepare her for a final gambit, a final
showdown against the brooding evil of Pernicia. The climax of the story
is a tour de force of fairy-tale fantasy, with an ancient manor-house
that thinks vast thoughts, and a bunch of animals that cooperate
together to help their princess, and bizarre creatures of evil, and a
dread poisoned sleep, and a living barrier of briar-roses, and more.
This is a book in which the fantasy is fantastic, the horror is
horrible, the romance is romantic, and the magic is magical. The animals
are compelling characters, a host of fairy-tale clichés are transformed
and renewed, a scintillating new magical world is convincingly created,
and a truly awesome young heroine dominates the scene. And best of all,
it is told with whimsy, wit, and warmth--it doesn't take itself too
seriously. I can think of but a few books whose first and last pages
were as close to perfection as this book's. And here's a passage that I
just can't help quoting to you:
Cats were often familiars to workers of magic because to anyone used to
wrestling with self-willed, wayward, devious magic--which was what all
magic was--it was rather soothing to have all the same qualities wrapped
up in a small, furry, generally attractive bundle that looked more or
less the same from day to day and might, if it were in a good mood, sit
on your knee and purr. Magic never sat on anyone's knee and purred.
Recommended Age: 14+
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