This was originally posted on September 27, 2005.
Another favorite fantasy author -- not sure what it says about me that there are enough fantasy authors that I like that I have more than one favorite, but she's one of my favorites of any genre so that's all right then.
She's not as rampantly quotable as Terry Pratchett, but then she's a bit more subtle in general. Pratchett's dragons roar and glitter and stride about; McKinley's lurk and emit evil and then burn you to a crisp without observing the usual niceties of knight-to-dragon combat. Pratchett's heroes wisecrack and stumble through the shifting realities of his world without losing their interestingly pointed hats; when McKinley's heroines wake up in the morning, they have tangled hair and pillow face, and they might not be in a good mood. Pratchett's magic flashes; McKinley's shimmers and glimmers and settles quietly into your soul.
Her early books are supposedly geared for teenagers, mostly girls (I think the boys probably read them too, but only when nobody's looking). The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown are delightful fantasy that I read for the first time when my hair was just growing out of the middle school layers into the high school spiral perm. I read them most recently as a grown-up mother of two, and I liked them more after the passage of (mumble) years.
As she continued to write, her books grew up too. Deerskin addresses horrifying realities without immersing the reader beyond hope. Spindle's End (Sleeping Beauty, more or less) gives us a heroine who is not entirely sure who she is, and she is stronger for it. Rose Daughter, her second retelling of the Beauty and the Beast legend (Beauty is the first), is a fairy tale that is most definitely not for children.
Sunshine, which I am currently reading for the fourth time since I bought it in 2004, is for grown-ups. She takes a world that's almostbutnotquite 21st-century America, drops some magic and vampires into it, stirs in cinnamon rolls and Bitter Chocolate Death, and serves it up with a dash of slightly bone-chilling romance (I'm not going to tell you any more than that). I don't have favorites of her books, since it's like trying to decide whether I prefer eating or breathing, but I do like this one. Quite a lot. I see different bits of myself in all her heroines. In Sunshine I see some of my very best and some of my very worst, so she appeals to me in a way that gets under my skin and stays there.
I'm not going to tell you to read McKinley's work, since I don't know if you'll like her or not. Not everyone does, and that's all right -- not everyone likes Shakespeare either, if you can find anyone honest enough to admit to it. I will say, though, that her work is worth a try if you like being grabbed by the back of the neck and yanked into a fantasy world and meeting yourself when you get there. I happen to like that. Maybe you will too.