ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Genre: YA fantasy
Publication Date: October 2, 2018
My rating: ★★★
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.
Okay, this is going to be one of those books with very polarizing reviews. You’re either going to love it, hate it, or be in the middle (like me) where you like the writing and message, but you’re also shaking your head going, WTF?
Firstly, here are the trigger warnings: Sexual assault/rape, mental and physical abuse, harm to animals, suicide and self harm (it’s discussed), imprisonment.
Even though this is a dark fairy tale retelling I feel like it would benefit more if it were marketed as an adult book rather than YA. While dark subject matter doesn’t bother me, I do believe this book brings up ugly scenarios that may not be suitable for everyone.
Damsel opens like a typical fairy tale: a prince slays a dragon to save a damsel in distress. This is what is supposed to happen after the rescue; the “happily ever afters”. The prince will become king and he needs a queen. However, after Prince Emory brings Ama back to his kingdom, Ama is full of questions. But she doesn’t remember what happened to her before she was captured by the dragon. While Ama has no memory of her family or previous life, Emory assures her she’s safe now and she will be his queen.
This book explores some very heavy themes, one of which is women’s rights. It is mentioned several times that women are just vessels for child bearing; that they must do whatever the man says because it is a man’s world. And that a woman’s wants do not matter as long as the man is pleased. This type of abuse isn’t only directed at Ama but at the other female characters as well.
Later Ama’s happiness is stripped layer by layer through different forms of mental abuse. I won’t go into spoilery details, but there are some scenes that made me feel so much anger. And, yes, there are sexual abuse/rape scenes (one that goes into beastiality territory), which I had to sit the book down and say WHAT THE F*CK? Did I really just read that!?
And don’t get me started on the euphemisms the author uses for “penis”. Like, it’s cringe worthy. It is referred to as an “ivory tusk” and “yard” several times. I just… why? It was so awkward.
But despite that WTF-moments, I actually liked it? I appreciated the feminist message behind this book, which is so important and reflective of how women are still treated today. I totally felt for Ama and I loved watching her character grow. And the ending is hella satisfying (even though it wraps up way too fast). I loved Arnold’s writing and how she was able to invoke so many emotions from me. That’s the thing about books like these; they might be ugly and dark, but they sure as hell stick with me for a long time.