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Review: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

Review: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

‘The rite has existed for as long as anyone can remember: when the prince-who-will-be-king comes of age, he must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been.

When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, however, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon, or what horrors she has faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome prince, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny to sit on the throne beside him. Ama comes with Emory back to the kingdom of Harding, hailed as the new princess, welcomed to the court.

However, as soon as her first night falls, she begins to realize that not all is as it seems, that there is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows–and that the greatest threats to her life may not be behind her, but here, in front of her.’

To say that I enjoyed Damsel isn’t to use the right word. I very much appreciated it as a work of feminist fiction and applaud it for the messages contained within, but I found that it was not an enjoyable or easy read. This does not mean that it isn’t an excellent book, as I feel that it is; indeed it would have less impact if it were not to make the reader uncomfortable. I read Damsel cover to cover in one sitting, as it agitated me so much that I had to finish it and find out how the situations in the story would be resolved.

I think that it should be said that Damsel is not what I would call a YA book, though it has been marketed as such. There are a number of sexual assaults committed against Ama over the course of the novel and a good deal of discussion of the bedroom and the rights of Emory to do as he pleases with women, discussion of such including frequent references to his genitalia. None of this is done in a particularly graphic way, but it is perhaps the matter of fact manner in which it is approached that makes it all the more disturbing. Ama’s deliberately crafted innocence and naivety, combined with the lyrical metaphors of the prose, is perhaps more evident to older readers, who may be more easily able to identify the myriad layers of meaning. For reasons of content alone, I could not, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone under sixteen.

There were elements of the novel that I loved, such as the use of the growing lynx cub and the name she’s given as an extended metaphor that is woven throughout the story.  Ama’s slow realisation of what is happening to her and gradual comprehension of the faults of the people around her is both frustrating and harrowingly highlights what manipulation in all sorts of relationships can do. I couldn’t help but appreciate the quality and craftsmanship of the tale as I was reading, despite growing anger towards the majority of its cast. The writing itself and the use of metaphors and wordplay such as the above is beautiful and often dreamlike, while simultaneously not allowing the reader to drop their guard at any given moment.

Damsel is a book that stands to haunt a reader long after reading it. A unique and memorable take on the age-old fairytale.

Thank you to Harper Collins for the ARC!

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pub date: 15th November 2018 (UK)