Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
September 2011


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Book Reviews
Guest Reviewer: Fattimah Intoual

"As the days get chilly, there is nothing better than spending a Sunday afternoon sitting in the sunshine with a pot of tea, a thick jumper and a good book. And nothing makes me feel warmer than a re-imagined fairy tale. Robin McKinley takes the comforting familiarity of childhood tales, pulls them apart, expands and reweaves them into vibrant, complex stories of royalty, betrayal, duty, love, revenge and war. Her novels gave me many hours of reading pleasure as a teenager and, to be honest, I still pull them off the bookshelf whenever I need some escapism."

In Spindle’s End McKinley takes the Perrault fairy tale ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and creates a hypnotic, tangled tale of briar roses, magic and friendship. I’ve never particularly liked the story of Sleeping Beauty because she isn’t a heroine who does anything. She grew up, pricked her finger, fell asleep, got rescued, and lived happily ever after. Rather boring… McKinley, on the other hand, refuses to allow her heroine to laze about waiting for a prince to come to the rescue. Princess Briar-Rose (raised in a village, handy with animals and known as Rosie to friends and family) is strong enough to save herself, and all those who love her.

Rose Daughter is a lush re-imagining of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ rich with the transformative power of love and a heroine who is brave, compassionate, and who has a talent for growing roses. Unlike traditional versions of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty’s power lies not in her looks, but her kindness and courage.

Having grown up with the saccharine Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, I find  Rose Daughter a refreshing change. Although there are no singing teacups and dancing candelabra, there is a Beast who is more than just a handsome man trapped in an ugly body, and he is (eventually) loved by a woman who is more than just a pretty face.

McKinley takes Charles Perrault’s little known fairy tale Donkeyskin and creates an extraordinary tale of darkness and light, despair and hope in Deerskin.  The author has received hate mail for this novel and indeed it is a confronting story of abuse and pain, but ultimately it’s a story of survival, courage and justice. Though a difficult and often heartbreaking story, I find beauty in Lissar’s courage, and the ordinary kindness of the people she encounters in her travels.  McKinley doesn’t pretend that the scars of abuse disappear over time, but her character does find the strength to trust and love again. This is not a novel to take lightly given its subject matter.


Fattimah currently lives in the nation’s chilly capital where she works for the federal government and tries to avoid frostbite. Originally from Adelaide, she’s an escapee from the legal profession, has more books than available storage space, a love of quirky British comedy and a habit of forgetting to sleep when she’s in the grip of an excellent novel.