Wherein Robin McKinley poses four questions and answers two

I was reminded of this post from Robin McKinley by the question raised in the previous post, about whether Spindle’s End or perhaps another McKinley novel ought to be included on a list of 50 Greatest Fantasy Novels of the Century (So Far).

Here, in a rare blog update, Robin McKinley reports some promising news in the guise of posing questions (and answering some of them).

1. Are you WRITING ANYTHING?* And if so, WHAT?**
2. Are you ever going to finish KES? Is it ever going to be available to buy, either finished or unfinished, but maybe preferably finished?***
3. Are you ever going to finish PEGASUS? I know you don’t do sequels, but surely the ending of PEGASUS isn’t the end. Please say yes.
4. Is there a sequel to . . .

Upon reading these questions, I immediately said, “What’s KES?” Luckily, that is one of the answers provided — McKinley hits the first two of these questions, like so:

ONE. Yes. I’m writing something. Its working title is ONE YEAR DIARY.

She does not promise to finish ONE YEAR DIARY any time this decade, so don’t hold your breath. Also, she says, “It’s a hell of a grim story. It’s not like anything I’ve written before.” Not sure how I feel about that. Sounds like if it ever does appear, I may be waiting to see the first reviews before buying it. Good to have the warning.

TWO. Part One of KES . . . is FINISHED. … And KES will be PUBLISHED.

Evidently this is something McKinley has been writing in tiny fragments and posting in installments. As I say, I was unaware of this. There is a Goodreads page for it, here. There is no official description worth mentioning, but a commenter at Goodreads, Melody, helpfully posts this description:

The oddball heroine of this story is just recovering from the breakup of her 18 year marriage. Through a random twist of fate she ends up leaving the familiarity of the city she has lived in all her life for the unknown country to start her new life. Here she faces such sinister forces as whooshing pine trees, teeth gnashing crickets, and cows. But at least there are no cockroaches in the country. Right?

Luckily she is welcomed by a host of friendly, helpful, quirky characters who help her relocate to Cold Valley near New Iceland. Read her adventures as she aquires an oversized house, oversized vehicle and oversized pet. None of these compare to her gargantuan oversized imagination. But that’s good because she IS a fantasy writer.

Join Kes as she struggles with Yggdrasil in the backyard, Yog-Sothoth in the cellar, deinonychus under the porch and sinister men in black shadowing her. Of course those are all just a product of an overactive imagination. Aren’t they? Our heroine couldn’t be more out of place. Or perhaps she will finally find where she always belonged.

I guess it’s the crickets that are gnashing their teeth, not someone’s teeth gnashing the crickets? Thus we see why hyphens are useful; tooth-gnashing crickets would have made this clear. I wonder what the “oversized pet” is? Deinonychus, perhaps? That is a nice feathered dinosaur with the classic dromaeosaur giant claw on the hind food. A Deinonychus would count as an oversized pet since they weighed something on the general order of 200 lbs.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, KES is not available online in serial form any more, so hopefully it will indeed be published. When it comes to McKinley, I don’t count my books till they’re actually in my hands, Goodreads pages don’t count. When an actual cover image appears, I’ll take that as a good sign. She gives no information about when it should appear or from what publisher.

THREE — She says the second half of Pegasus will be published. I’ll believe that one when when it happens.

Now, while we’re on the subject of McKinley’s possible upcoming releases: What is your favorite McKinley story so far? Not just from this century, but ever. In case you can use a reminder, here’s a list:

The Blue Sword
The Hero and the Crown
Rose Daughter
Spindle’s End
The Outlaws of Sherwood
The Stone Fey

Then a bunch of shorter work:

The Hunting of the Hind
The Princess and the Frog
The Stolen Princess
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
The Healer
The Stagman
Touk’s House
The Sea King’s Son
Water Horse
First Flight
A Pool in the Desert

There are a few shorter works I’ve never read, but I do have most of the collected stories. Here’s how I would personally rank all these:

1. The Blue Sword. A perfect story. Just love it. Also, I recommend this one all the time as an example of the simplest, plainest, most invisible writing style — the kind of writing that just vanishes off the page, allowing the reader to fall directly into the story.

2. Sunshine. Another perfect story. I think it works beautifully from beginning to end.

3. Beauty. The first McKinley novel I ever read, it made a big impression on me and instantly became my pick for definitive Beauty retelling. In my opinion, the ending is weak. The ending of most Beauty retellings is weak. It is just hard to end this particular fairy tale well. Nevertheless, delightful story. Best retelling of any fairy tale ever.

Surely most McKinley fans will put these three at or near the top. After that the rest get harder to sort out.

4. Chalice. Yes, it’s short and simple. It’s also just a lovely little gem.

5. “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” One of my favorite fairy tales, beautifully re-told.

6. “Buttercups.” Lovely original fairy tale.

7. Deerskin. When I re-read this one, I skip that one bit toward the front. You know the part I mean. I read the very beginning and pick back up when she finds the cabin in the woods. But it’s a good, well-told story with a good ending.

8. The Hero and the Crown. Loved it, but not as much as The Blue Sword.

9. Dragonhaven. I know it’s slow. I really liked it and thought McKinley did a fine job with the voice of the protagonist.

10. “A Knot in the Grain.” I liked it a lot.

11. Outlaws of Sherwood. I like Robin Hood and I enjoyed this book very much, but I think it’s impossible to end this story well and I don’t think McKinley managed to do it any more than anyone else.

12. “First Flight.” Too repetitious, imo, and too predictable. Still a great pleasure to read.

13. “Touk’s House.” I liked it a lot.

14. Shadows. I liked it a lot, but it felt unfinished.

14. “Hellhound.” I liked it a lot, but (a) I didn’t believe in the magical cure for what happened to the brother; and (b) the ending, where Miri and the others explained what had happened, felt repetitious and unnecessary.

15. Spindle’s End. The ending was totally unsatisfactory imo, so much so as to nearly spoil the book, which I otherwise liked a lot.

16. Rose Daughter. I think I resent this title on behalf of Beauty, which may not be fair, but there it is.

17. The Stone Fey. Forgettable.

18. The rest: I haven’t read them or they didn’t leave that much of an impression.

Feel free to argue! Which do you think I put in completely the wrong place?

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21 thoughts on “Wherein Robin McKinley poses four questions and answers two”

  1. McKinley and I have an odd relationship. I love them when I first read them (mostly – Dragonhaven and Pegasus and a couple others, not so much), then I decide they aren’t keepers after a bit. Then I regret & get them back, and .. rinse repeat.

    Beauty, Sunshine and Deerskin are the only ones who don’t trigger this pattern. The Door in the Hedge, for the Twelve Princesses story, which is my favorite retelling.

    On Pegasus, I once dropped into her blog and found that she was saying it was going to be a trilogy, just couldn’t get it into two. I’m not holding my breath for anything.

  2. That has happened with me with Nancy Springer’s fantasies. I had the White Hart series, got rid of it, re-bought it, and finally gave it away again. Which I sort of regret and every now and then I think of picking it up for the third time.

    Maybe now that ebooks are a Thing, books like that will be acquired in a format where I never have to ask myself whether I want the book more than the shelf space.

  3. I converted one of the rooms in my house into a library, so I have room for everything now!

    Outlaws of Sherwood was my first McKinley, so I’ve got a soft spot for it, but I think Sunshine is my favorite. I also really liked Chalice. I should revisit Blue Sword – it’s been a while.

    Shadows annoyed me because it just seemed like a slightly worse blow by blow retelling of Sunshine. Between that and Pegasus, it put all new books from her in a “wait for the reviews” category.

  4. I loved everything about Outlaws of Sherwood — except the ending.

    Also, really? I didn’t feel Shadows was much like Sunshine — and not nearly as good.

    Also, REALLY? YAY!!! I’m am SO happy to hear that. It took me a long time to try the Hidden Legacy series, but I think it may be my favorite of their series.

  5. The details of Shadows were different, but the story beats were (as I remember it) like if you’d played mad libs with sunshine, substituting a different unexpected encounter with dangerous magic, a different newly discovered and unique magical ability, a different network of people who’d been hiding their own abilities…reading it just made me think that I’d rather read Sunshine again.

    The existing Hidden Legacy books ended well but left a lot of major threads unresolved, so I was hoping that was going to fill the Kate Daniels-shaped hole in their schedule.

  6. I just remembered that I wrote a Goodreads review for Shadows, which I seem to remember slightly less charitably now than when I read it. I liked the dogs and the origami. In the cons, I thought things ended just when it was really getting interesting, the made up slang was annoying, and to quote my review:

    There are a lot of original elements to this story, but having that excerpt from Sunshine at the end of this book doesn’t do Shadows any favors. We’ve got a girl who discovers she has amazingly powerful magic, in a setting where that isn’t legal, but where it turns out that tons of people she knows have been hiding less dramatic abilities of their own, and it’s all an open secret.

  7. I really liked Shadows, although Sunshine is my favorite. I’d probably rank Sunshine, Shadows, Chalice/Beauty, and then the rest. The slang in Shadows doesn’t bother me, and I actually know all the Japanese words she used (my friends and I did the same thing with random Japanese words, so that part was really on point for me). Shadows does feel like a copy of Sunshine, though enough was different that I like it for itself. It just feels like it should’ve gotten a sequel even more than Sunshine, as the whole cast is assembled by the end and it would be really neat to see where it goes from there.

  8. I just re-read Shadows, so I have a better idea of what SarahZ means by Shadows having all the same beats as Sunshine. The relationship between the protagonist and the stepfather is the most interesting element to me, though, and that’s a very different relationship than the one between Sunshine and Constantine.

    This time I was struck by the Repressive Government / Illegal Magic aspects of Shadows, which I had not exactly forgotten, but I hadn’t realized how similar that is to the worldbuilding in Sunshine.

    The slang I found interesting and fun. I enjoyed the random Japanese words even though I never played around with Japanese that way myself. But Shadows still feels very unfinished, not like it’s the front half of a story, but like it should take a hint from urban fantasy and expand into a real series. Though I would much rather see a sequel for Sunshine, if I got to choose. Sunshine gives every element more depth than anything gets in Shadows.

  9. DEERSKIN was actually my first McKinley, and truth be told, my first fantasy after several years away from the genre. (I just could not resist that gorgeous cover art.) McKinley will always have a spot on my shelf for her animal characters, which to me are as memorable as her humans.

    I was a faithful reader of her blog when she was writing it daily, and am happy to see her back online. I read KES from the start – it began life as a serial in which she was given plot prompts by her blog admin at the time, who I believe had experience as an RPG moderator. So think of it less as a standard novel and more like a story-telling experiment (although it sounds like she may be editing it for publication). Having been around for its beginning, I’m looking forward to its official release – and not just because of that lovely pet. ;)

  10. The cover of Deerskin is lovely! Plus long-haired sighthounds are so beautiful!

    Thanks for explaining how McKinley wrote KES! How interesting! I expect it will be edited. I’ll certainly grab it when it comes out. I’m looking forward to … the pet. Very curious now!

  11. The Blue Sword is definitely my favorite. And Beauty is my go-to Beauty and the Beast, although then I have to re-read parts of Rose Daughter, because I love the Beast who paints the constellations.

    I love her work, though I don’t have the short stories collections, a dire situation which needs to be remedied immediately. And I never heard of The Stone Fey! Yay, more to read!

  12. I do love many of the short stories! McKinley is one of the very few authors where I specifically seek out her shorter work as well as her novels.

  13. I re-read Beauty until it fell apart when I was younger, but haven’t looked at it in decades. I still re-read Blue Sword every few years; I agree, it’s a perfect book. And the second half of Deerskin is one of my favourite places to go. Sunshine and Dragonhaven are my favourites of her newer(ish) ones; I’ve re-read both of them at least once; I love the voices of the narrators.

    I enjoyed Shadows and Chalice but have never felt inclined to revisit them.

    It’s been ages since I’ve read any of her short stories, but I feel like I really liked The Stone Fey. I just can’t remember it.

  14. Katherine Liljestrand

    I’ve actually put Spindle’s End as one of my two favorite books of all-time since I was young. I’ve had to tape it back together since I’ve read it so many times that it fell apart. And personally I far preferred Rose Daughter over Beauty. Beauty & the Beast was always my favorite fairy tale and it was my first lead role in a ballet (I’m a ballet dancer). At the time, I read through as many different versions of Beauty & the Beast I could find, and I just related to Rose Daughter in a way I couldn’t with Beauty.

    I adored Sunshine when I read it.

    I more recently read Chalice, and I couldn’t agree more, it’s a beautiful little gem of a book. And I just finished Pegasus this week. I know the ending is abrupt, but hey, I was entranced all the way through and remembered exactly why I love Robin McKinley’s work so much.

  15. Katherine, it’d be interesting to do a general poll of McKinley fans and see how the Rose Daughter / Beauty preference comes out. I wonder if it depends mainly on which book you read first so that readers tend to resist falling in love with the second, whichever they read first, or whether people generally have an intrinsic preference for one or the other? It sounds like you read them very close together, though.

    One problem for me is that names like “Lionheart” bother me a LOT, no matter how good the story is otherwise. I also have a problem with, eg, Corporal Carrot in the Discworld series. I get that this is a personal quirk, but there it is.

    Incidentally, I specifically modeled the “feel” of The Keeper of the Mist on Chalice. A handful of astute readers noticed, though the only physical similarity is the boundary around each of the countries.

  16. I love both Beauty & Rose Daughter. I fairly deeply identify with scholarly Beauty, and her infinite library of treasures, but I was never satisfied with the ending, whereas I find the Rose Daughter ending to be very satisfying. Tbh, if I was going to say anything negative about McKinley, it’s that her endings tend to either not resonate with me or leave me tearing my hair screaming “But what happens NEXT?!?”
    I genuinely love Sunshine, but she left me with so.many.questions.
    Mostly I agree with your list, except that I’d put Outlaws at the bottom with several blank spaces between it and anything else she ever wrote, and I’d rate Shadows significantly higher. I felt she did a brilliant job of a teenage worldview, and I especially liked the language play. I’d put Pegasus at the bottom too, but mostly because I wasn’t expecting it to be part of a trilogy and because she hasn’t finished writing the damn trilogy. I absolutely feel terrible for her – losing a husband and settling estates are both hideous things- but until I actually get the rest, Pegasus doesn’t get a good rating from me.

  17. Wow, I guess you REALLY did not like the ending of OUTLAWS. Or did you dislike the whole thing?

    I hated, hated, hated the cliffhanger in PEGASUS. It’s so awful the whole book is unreadable. Such a shame when she obviously put a lot into building that world.

  18. Too many writers these days seem to be opting out of promised sequels. It’s infuriating—and shows a lack of integrity and disloyalty to their fans (and supporters!).

  19. lynn, are they opting out, or are the publishers not buying them? I can think of a few well known names who haven’t come through, but it’s just as possible the publisher doesn’t want them.

    REcently on this blog someone posted a comment & Rachel pulled it out to post about, that another writer, Michelle Sagara West’s extremely long complicated series was being dropped by DAW because the distributor said they didn’t sell enough. West intends to self-publish the rest, but how many others is that happening to? and of those, how many have contracts that gave the publisher ownership of setting/characters? That apparently is common in modern publishing contracts and if that’s the case the author CAN’T self publish sequels.

  20. Elaine, unfortunately a possibly common problem. I know of several authors offhand to whom that’s happened, including me.

    Thankfully, none of my contracts tie up the world and characters. That would be even more infuriating than the publisher just deciding not to take a sequel, and that’s bad enough.

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