Damsel, Elana K. Arnold – Book Review

Hello humans! I’ll start by saying I had no idea how to write this review. This book is complicated and in some ways, I am all for it and in others, I think it could be done differently and…oh I don’t know. With that in mind, if some segments of this review are just word vomit please excuse me I have a lot of conflicting thoughts.

damsel elana k arnold

Goodreads Summary:

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 grey 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.

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Abuse, Sexual Assault, Rape, very dark themes. Reader discretion is absolutely advised.

I’ll start by saying that, had I not had any warning about the themes of this book going in, I would have DNF’d it. I would have put this book down after the first few chapters. I am hoping against all hope that whoever designs the blurb/back cover for this book will make these themes explicit because if you know what you’re getting in for, this book is actually quite powerful.

I think that’s where my conflicted feelings lie. I can see how this book is important, and I like books that explore aspects of modern society through the lens of fantasy (Tess of the Road is a great example if you’re looking for something a little less intense that also has dragons). I appreciate the willingness to go there, to say – this happened and this continues to happen and it is not ok. There is a value to making your readers feel uncomfortable, there is a value to making people see what is not ok. But I feel that, in any instance, but particularly where your book is being marketed towards younger readers, you should be making it explicit before they begin reading, nay, before they purchase the book, that it will happen.

With that in mind, I’m reviewing this with the mentality that it will be made obvious that this book tackles such things before purchase if it doesn’t then I shall have reservations.

I thought that there were elements of this book that were very impactful. I thought that the way the story built up and built upon the idea of powerlessness and the idea of tradition often being the problem was very well done. Some of the most significant moments in the story, at least for me, were when Ama and the queen mother have conversations. Maybe it needed more of that message, of women helping women within society, maybe it would have taken away from the overall sense of danger, I’m not sure.

I will also say that the darkest moments of this book are captured in a very evocative way. If the intention is to make the reader uncomfortable then it certainly succeeds. I’m squirming now just thinking about them, so the actual prose, the description and such are also very good.

Where this book fell down for me was the pacing. This was in part because I figured out pretty much exactly how the book was going to end by the end of the second chapter, but also I do feel like this book was shorter than it needed to be, or perhaps that it chose to focus on moments at the expense of others (I don’t think I would have liked more of the darker moments but the ending is so fast).

I won’t spoil the ending, but I did feel like it happened in a flash and I felt a little bit cheated. Like I had got through an entire book of Ama being treated terribly and there was never that respite, never that true triumphant moment, or if there was then I missed it and I would like more, please.

As I say, I was left conflicted by this book. Trouble is I tend to rate books based on whether I would re-read them and whether I would lend them to friends and I don’t think I’m ready to re-read this any time soon and I don’t know that I would lend it to friends unless they expressed an interest. But I do think this book has some important ideas and some good writing in it and I don’t necessarily want to give the impression that these are themes that YA shouldn’t be dealing with, because it absolutely should.

Ok, sudden thought – which may become word vomit so read on with care and don’t judge my grammar – maybe my problem is that at its core this is a book that is condemning people to attempt to own, manipulate and abuse women. Right? That’s what this is about. It has to be. But it’s so clearly marketed and written towards women? (Not getting into the debate about men being raped here because I’m not the right person to talk about that and it doesn’t quite apply in this context). But because it didn’t have that triumphal ending it didn’t feel like a book that was supporting women. I’m not saying this book is victim blaming whatsoever, so don’t misconstrue that statement. But I do feel a bit like it’s preaching to the choir? Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe that was just my reading of it. I’d love to hear your thoughts, comment below with what you think.

My rating: 3/5 stars

I received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

What say you? Will you be reading this, if you’re reading my review after publication date – is there a warning on the back? Let me know in the comments below!



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