Published by Balzer + Bray
Published on 2 October 2018
Genres: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy, Young Adult
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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.
I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
My friend Emily May called this an ‘’ugly, awful little book” and she’s absolutely right, it is ugly, it is awful, and it is absolutely awesome.
I found Damsel to be highly readable once I figured out it was quirky and whimsical (it took me about two pages). I also found it to be serious and melancholy, a great discussion on consent, women’s rights, misogyny and dismantling the patriarchy.
I also don’t know why this is being marketed as a YA. It’s technically suitable for young adults, as in, people over the age of eighteen but under the age of 30, but in the book world, YA is the term used in marketing toward teens and sometimes even tweens, and it’s really not ‘suitable’ for younger readers because of the glib and blunt use of sexualisation, sexuality, innuendo, and sexual assault. I know sexual assault and sexual activity does appear in loads of YA, but there’s something about the way this is written – it’s blunt, it’s not romantic, and it’s on-page. So I’d be cautious about younger readers, in my opinion anyone under 15 reading this. But since everyone is different I’m not going to say it’s not for teens full stop. I mean, I studied Atonement in school and that had C*UNT in it (without the apostrophe), and sexual assault and on-page sex, so who knows? Maybe a sniggering class of teenagers could handle this story of Emory, his damsel, and all the weird euphemisms for penis.
So the basic plot is this: to be crowned king, Prince Emory must defeat a dragon and bring home the damsel as his bride, who will then provide him with a single male heir who will repeat the same quest ad nauseam. This is the way it is and the way it has been for as long as anyone can remember. Emory’s own mother was a damsel. Emory names his damsel Ama, and this is her story.
From the way it’s written, its brutal yet effective storytelling, I think that people are either going to love this or hate this and not have many in-between. To top off all the sex stuff, there’s also animal abuse, gaslighting, suicide and a really creepy friend of the king who thinks he can do anything he pleases. It’d be a great novel to dissect and look at all of the symbolism and imagery woven into the novel, and finding parallels with modern-day issues like the #MeToo movement and even mansplaining. It shows what happens to a woman in a man’s world when her future husband is the entitled king of that world. Not only does he gaslight and infantilise her (Twilight lovers should love this), he sexually assaults her and blames her for his actions (Hush, Hush lovers should love that), and constantly threatens her animal companion, a lynx kitten she saved from her own future husband’s murdering hands, to control her.
I think this may be one of the darkest books I’ve read, just in terms of the horrible threatening feeling and feeling of hopelessness staining each and every page of this book. It depicts an abusive relationship: Ama can’t escape her fate, because where would she go when Emory, the most powerful man in the world, believes her to be his own property? She has no family and no memory and is incapable of looking after herself. Even as she questions the world around her, she learns quickly that Emory wants her a very specific way and she is forced to shrink into that shape just to please him and be spared his wrath. Then of course, he is mollified, and almost seems to be a decent person again, until something triggers him and Ama is once again in danger. The cycle of abuse continues.
I know when I’m loving a book because I want to read it at every chance I get, and as such, I only took a couple of days to get through this. It’s well-written and a quick page-turner so long as you find it engaging and not off-putting (which some people will), and although I (in my slightly conservative way) think it’s not exactly appropriate reading material for young teenagers, I do really recommend this as an enjoyable, challenging read. Also, the ending made everything worth it.
Note: The publisher website says this is for ages 14+.