The Great Book Sort, Part 3 (Robin McKinley)

August 1, 2022 at 12:04 am (book reviews)

Before I start, let us remember that authors are only human and never ever deserve the abuse that any famous person inevitably receives. This is a (mostly) negative review, and a warning to readers—it is not an invitation to harangue an elderly woman who happens to be particularly gifted with the written word and somewhat less gifted (in my opinion) at sticking to incomplete ideas and letting go of complete ideas.

Yes, I am attempting humour. Hopefully some people will like it.

I hereby declare a blood feud against Robin McKinley. She conceals great evil in her apparent innocence.

Observe the face of true evil! Note how she has clearly cut up two innocent dogs and laid one head and one body on her lap, never to be united.

(Photo from wikipedia.)

Twenty or so years ago, I read “The Blue Sword” and was enchanted. There was something about her lyrical style that grabbed me, and the moment in which the heroine is talking to someone who loves the desert like she does (passionately, irrationally) has stuck with me all this time.

The sequel wasn’t nearly as good. It felt a lot more generic (chosen one, prophecy, magical items, battle) and therefore less interesting. The main character who was interesting in the first book was effectively a different person.

But I read one of her other books, way back then, that I didn’t remember so clearly. I read it again, recently, and remembered as I read that I’d read it before, but couldn’t remember how it ended. Was it beautiful? Tragic? Mediocre?

So much worse, my friends. So. Much. Worse.

That book was “Pegasus”, a story about human-Pegasus relationships across a seemingly insurmountable cultural divide. Of course I loved it! Cultures reaching out to one another is my jam! But as I re-read it, long stretches of the book were incredibly dull. Conversations between characters that stopped the plot moving, and lots of political machinations that weren’t magical or fun at all. I kept going, telling myself to trust this author who sometimes had such a profound effect upon me.

Then I finished the book, which ends very abruptly. Or rather, it doesn’t end at all. Not even a cliffhanger, or a tragedy, or something badly written. It truly ruly doesn’t end. (Apparently it’s NOT “a book” put part one of a three-part “book”.) As I searched for the second part, not sure if I wanted to wade through more of this drab tale but hoping I could at least get a summary…. I found a deep well of rage, betrayal, and tragedy.

There is no sequel (or “Part 2” if you prefer). It’s been over a decade and there’s NO SEQUEL!?!??! To a book with one of the most frustrating non-endings of all time?

It’s not just me. You can read some of the chorus of rage on the Goodreads page for the second book, which has been live for over ten years and giving people false hope all that time.

And I have suffered more than all of them, because I journeyed through the boredom, frustration, and ultimate fury of reading “Pegasus” not once but twice.

*inarticulate screaming*

Whatever you do, DO NOT read this book! It is, quite literally, not finished.


But there’s more, even more damning horrors to lay at the feet of this best-selling villain.

Notice anything, my precious? Sorta similar covers, aren’t they? Both somewhat suggestive of “Beauty and the Beast”, yes?

Oh yes.

Not only are they both based on “Beauty and the Beast”, they are extremely similar. If anyone else had written the second, they would definitely lose millions in a plagiarism lawsuit.

Three daughters, and an elderly father. Poverty. Travel. Small town. Becoming better people through hardship. Dad lost in woods; mysterious castle; takes a rose for the daughter named “Beauty” and then the Beast gets angry and orders him to send his daughter to the castle; the daughter comes; the beast isn’t nearly as horrible as he looks; Beast lets her go due to family crisis and nearly dies as a result, which causes Beauty to declare her love; they marry and live happily ever after.

Many many scenes are almost identical: The Beast refusing to eat with Beauty because he can’t do it gracefully; the castle constantly changing shape and colour and size (I really hated that in both versions—it was mystical and lyrical, but also somewhat pointless and annoying); Beauty seeing visions of her sisters, etc. Even the sudden appearance of butterflies in the otherwise lifeless castle being an early portent of returning life.

For me, there are two main differences between the stories. In the first, the name “Beauty” is a sarcastic nickname for an ugly girl (which I liked, except the castle then made her prettier). In the second, the Beast does not transform back into a human at the end, which is cool in some ways and super weird in others.

It reads VERY much as if it has been written from the exact same notes as the first book. Not just the same inspiration. Very much the same scene by scene outline. In the author’s afterword, she says how disappointed she was to have written “Beauty” before she had spent a significant amount of time growing roses. An increase in horticultural knowledge has not improved the story; not one bit.

It is terribly annoying to read the exact same story by the same author, and to pay for both of them. It feels like reading two drafts of the same book, as if the author is lurking over my shoulder saying, “Should I write the scene this way or that way?” I didn’t sign up to be an editor.

But I am now going to express my rage in the most heinous manner possible—and it is all the more heinous because I am about to say something true, and one never knows what an author, even a nearly-70-year-old bestselling author, might somehow read:

Brace yourselves.

The second “Beauty and the Beast” book she wrote, with an extra ten years of writing experience (and gardening experience) under her belt….

is not as good.

Pow. The burning brand of true hatred falls without mercy.

The character development of the family is much weaker in the second book. It rushes through the change from ‘spoiled rich people’ to ‘good-hearted and loving country folk’, making it feel unrealistic (and calling attention to the fact that being poor and anxious is not usually a catalyst for becoming a better person). It also has a whole complicated magical backstory that serves only to confuse matters, spending several pages telling different versions of a story (which just feels repetitive, and slows down the actual story), and well as making a huge deal out of “three sisters living in Rose Cottage” with no payoff whatsoever (there’s a prophecy saying that when three sisters live in Rose Cottage, walls and towers will fall—but the sisters live there for many years with no issues… and there are no walls and towers in the book whatsoever).

I mean sure, feel free to read both. Compare and contrast, if you like. Make up your own mind. But just know that they are absolutely the same story (acknowledged by the author).

So yeah, “Rose Daughter” and “Pegasus” are going straight into the “Nope” pile, so I never sully my mind with their contents again.

Take that, McKinley.



  1. Neil@kallaroo said,

    That was a beautiful rage 🙂

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