Book review: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

36260155*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Damsel

Author: Elana K. Arnold

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

ISBN: 9780062742346

Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 struggled with Damsel a lot because I expected it to be a lot stronger of a feminist text than I felt that it was. This story is a retelling of the “damsel-in-distress” narrative that dominates so many fairytales. In a drastic way, it calls attention to the lack of agency that female characters in these stories actually have. However, though it contains a graphic declaration of the perpetuation of patriarchal domination in these stories, I personally didn’t feel as though it did enough to combat these themes with a strong feminist objection. This book includes so many triggers incredibly graphic violence and rape, animal cruelty, abuse, and self-harm, making this book incredibly difficult to digest. I was uncomfortable reading the whole thing. I’m so glad to see that books are discussing these issues and bringing attention to these issues within literature and the literary cannon.

This book discusses great themes of female agency and the theft of the female voice in it’s dark attempt to rewrite the classic fairytale. BUT, I kept hoping for a strong woman to rise up and fight this fictional system. The only resolution to be found is profoundly unsatisfying within in the very short last one or two pages. Leading up to that is continued and recurrent abuse that becomes too much as it goes on throughout the book. I can recognize that this is likely the author’s intention, to demonstrate the terrible inescapable situation that abuse carries and to showcase the negative ideals that the princess-in-the-castle stories perpetuate. This book is supposed to be a discussion of misogyny and feminism and the patriarchy, but for my own interest, there was too much misogyny and not enough feminist ladies kicking ass.

WARNING: this book is classified as a young adult novel, however the rape and sexual assault scenes are gratuitously graphic and in depth. I don’t expect this level of description from adult texts, so I wouldn’t advise that this be read by teens. I don’t want you to mistake me that we shouldn’t be talking about these topics in literature–we most definitely should. But such description is not common in YA lit and I can see many unsuspecting readers coming across potential graphic descriptions. The book is sexually graphic throughout to the point where I, as an adult, was uncomfortable. I kept reading in hopes of some great redemption, but that never came.

I can’t say I enjoyed this book. I wanted it to be more than it was and so perhaps my feelings originate from dashed expectations. If you choose to read, take warning to the intense triggers throughout. I hope you take more away from this book than I did.

Published by wornpagesandink

Hi! I'm Jaaron. I'm a book-obsessed blogger, writer, reader, coffee-drinker, and dog-lover. I have a B.A.H. in English Literature and a post-graduate diploma in Book and Magazine publishing. I've been fortunate to have worked in both trade and educational publishing. If you have any recommendations for excellent reads, let me know!

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