and Other Stories
by Robin McKinley
Robin McKinley is one of those hit-or-miss authors for me. The first book of hers I read was Beauty, and it remains my very favorite. I've liked a lot of her other works, and found others just- well, uninteresting. This was one. A Knot in the Grain contains five short stories. Four are rooted in fantasy worlds (several in Damar), the last titular one has a modern setting.
A mute girl travels with a dis-empowered mage to his master's mountain, where they both seek healing and she must choose between a unsuspected opportunity or returning to her humble home and those she loves.
An orphaned princess is oppressed into ignorance by her cruel uncle, then given in sacrifice to a beast half man, half stag. But the Stagman rescues her instead, carrying her off to Luthe's mountain...
A desperate woodsman steals herbs from a witch's garden, who exacts the payment of his unborn child. The girl grows up as the witch's daughter. When she learns who her real parents are and the witch's intentions for her, she runs away. But nothing she finds in the greater world compares to the love she has- for the witch's troll son.
A humble farmer marries a beautiful girl much younger than himself. He's very happy until he overhears rumors casting doubts on their relationship. He must learn to accept who she really is- and not to fear the mysterious hill of buttercups on his farm.
The last story tells of a girl whose family moves during her last year in high school. Upset at leaving her friends behind, she finds solace in re-reading old fairy tale favorites from the small local library and hiding out in attic of their new, old farmhouse. But then she discovers the attic has a secret.... What I liked best about this one was the descriptions of her forays to the library and into novels. And I did like the message of "Buttercups".
These stories are mysterious and dreamlike, full of hidden portent. And that's just what frustrated me about them. I kept having lots of questions that never got answered. Threads left hanging. I don't mind a few mysteries remaining at the end of a story- sometimes that makes it fell more real because after all, in real life you never know the reasons behind everything. But here I wanted to know. Things like where did the Stagman come from? What were those things the girl buried in the ground? What was the curse on Coral's family? What was living inside Buttercup Hill? Why did Erana love the troll? I suppose that's another thing that left me unsatisfied: I didn't feel like I really got to know any of the characters very well, their motivations or personalities. Maybe that's just what you get with short stories- there's not enough room to fit it all in. I rather wish some of these stories were developed into full-length novels; the premises are very interesting.
Rating: 2/5 ........ 195 pages, 1994