Pros: Fairy tales for both young adults and grownips.
Cons: Well, they're short stories, and I kept wanting more.
The best work that Robin McKinley did, in my humble opinion, was in her early career. The two novels, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, are quite rightly classics. So is her retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast, simply titled Beauty. She's gone on to write several more novels in the same genre of storytelling, but they've taken a slight turn towards a certain world-weariness and almost cynicism in their tone, especially in the novel Deerskin, which seems to be the point where McKinley's writing style changed.
So I was surprised when I found this one while rearranging some books. I had quite forgotten that I had a copy of it, and settled in with a pot of tea to reread the four stories. These are not exactly deep stories that are told, and the tales may be partially unfamiliar to those readers who haven't explored some of them. But each one is a lovely little tale about dreams, desires, and ultimately hope in a better time. That's what engages me these days, when I can get a few hours of escapism in our world.
The four stories are as follows:
The Stolen Princess
Tells the tale of two twin sisters, different as night and day, in a kingdom where male infants are sometimes kidnapped, but also young maidens on their seventeenth birthday. When the younger princess, Ellian, vanishes, the surviving sister is left to pick up the pieces and move on.
The Princess and the Frog
Shortest of the four, this one could have been expanded a bit more. All of the familiar bits are here, but the how and why the frog is enchanted isn't really explained beyond a bit of sibling rivalry.
The Hunting of the Hind
This one I liked least of the stories, it was rather flat, and not too inspiring, although McKinley's imagry of a magical, Golden Hind that drives all to see her mad and delusional until a young princess chases her to save her brother, is certainly vivid.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Best retelling of the collection, it's the old favorite of twelve sisters and the riddle of why their dancing slippers are worn through every morning. It's satisfying at a basic level, especially with the nameless old soldier who puts all the pieces together.
McKinley's style in this is classic, old-world fairy tale. The language is slightly stilted, but that lets the charm of these stories shine through, not really settling them into one time or place.
This collection was first published in 1981, and I am glad to see that it's back in print. A great starter for those who have not yet encountered McKinley's work, and for those that have, well, what are you waiting for?