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The Stone Fey
Robin McKinley
Harcourt Brace Books, 52 pages

Art: John Clapp
The Stone Fey
Robin McKinley
Robin McKinley was born in 1952 in Warren, Ohio. She attended Dickinson College and graduated summa cum laude from Bowdoin College. In 1978, her first novel, Beauty, was accepted on its first submission. She lives in Hampshire, England, along with her writer husband, Peter Dickinson, and three whippets. Besides five novels and two collections, Robin McKinley has had two children's picture books published: My Father is in the Navy and Rowan.

Robin McKinley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Rose Daughter
SF Site Review: Rose Daughter

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Margo MacDonald

It's difficult, really, to classify this book. At first glance, it appears to be a beautifully illustrated children's book (and that is what it's being marketed as). But if you actually pick it up and read it, and allow yourself to fall into the watercolour world of the illustrations, you will find that it is not exactly the kind of story most parents read to their children -- at least not nowadays. For what Robin McKinley has given us with this tale is a return to the old world of storytelling; when the cautionary tales told around the hearth fires entertained the children on one level, while they spoke to the hearts of the older folks on another.

This is a story of seduction. The time neither is nor ever was and the place is neither here nor there. The story is set in the timeless here and now of traditional fairy tales. Maddy is a young woman who tends sheep for the family farm up in the ancient hills. One day a lamb is lost and is returned to Maddy by a most mysterious being. A not-quite-human man with grey skin and expressionless eyes. A being out of her grandmother's tales. A stone fey.

The story follows Maddy's seduction into the arms of the stone fey -- and her gradual recovery from his spell. On the outskirts of the tale are the quiet concern of Maddy's family (and dog) as they see the changes in her which grow with each day spent in the company of the fey. And then there is her loving fiance who will be returning soon to start their new life together. In spite of their concern, however, it is Maddy's strength of individual will and self-realization which will allow her to break the consuming spell of the fey.

Children, I think, will be most amused by the personalities of the sheep and Maddy's dog, so lovingly and insightfully portrayed by McKinley (though I must admit, the dog was my favourite character, too). For adults, though, the resonance will run deeper. An allegory of those rebellious teenage years when family was pushed aside, the loss of fleeting romance to something more sound, the decision to turn away from the dreamlands of childhood and settle into adulthood -- all these themes echo in the depth of story beneath this story.

Readers of all ages will be captivated by the beautiful watercolour illustrations by John Clapp. Through his skill, Clapp takes the gazer from dark, sullen shadows into dizzyingly bright daylight. He captures with simplicity the personalities of the land, the sky, the dog and Maddy. My favourite is the illustration of the stone fey at the far end of a long dark path -- a dark shadow against a dark sky -- holding a tiny white lamb in its arms and looking for all the world like a choice to be made.

The skill of McKinley's writing is not unexpected. As always, it is as welcome as a twinkling star in an overcast sky. The softness and subtlety with which she guides the reader through the story are the hallmarks of her style, combined with a sly sense of humour and a quiet sadness which shrugs itself, finally, into peace. What did come unexpectedly were the haunting after-effects of reading this deceptively simple tale. I can still feel that little pea of loss rolling around inside my chest, or as if there is a shadow against the starlit sky, or a sudden surge of joy which makes me, like Maddy and the sheep, want to "jump straight into the air for no reason, and dash off in whatever direction she found herself in when she came down again, only for the pleasure of doing something dumb."

It takes a master storyteller to be able to reach into the hearts and emotional experience of the readers and speak to them on many levels and in many different ways. It can no longer be denied that the title "master storyteller" is one that should be added to the end of McKinley's name, like PhD or MBA. Robin McKinley, Master Storyteller. Yeah, that about sums it up.

Copyright © 1999 by Margo MacDonald

Margo has always been drawn toward fantasy and, at the age of 5, decided to fill her life with it by pursuing a career as a professional actress. Aside from theatre (and her husband), Margo's passion has been for books. Her interests are diverse and eclectic, but the bulk fall within the realm of speculative fiction. She tells us that her backlog has reached 200 books and she's ready to win the lottery and retire.

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