Review: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

Posted by Jessi (Geo) on March 6, 2020 | 0 Comments

Review: Damsel by Elana K. ArnoldDamsel by Elana K. Arnold
Published by Balzer + Bray (10.2.2018)
Genres: Fantasy, New Adult
Format: Paperback, 309 pages
Source: From Publisher

3.5 Stars

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.

My thoughts

THIS BOOK IS NOT YA. It is labeled as such, but contains sexual and mature content.

Oh, boy. How to review this?! I don’t even know how I feel about it to be honest. I actually think that I fall into the black sheep category on this book, but for once in a good way. I think I actually liked it. (I say ‘think’ because I’m rather freaking confused and my feelings are muddled and I think that speaks volumes.)

First of all, this book comes with some pretty heavy trigger warnings. Rape/sexual assault, abuse/violence, self harm & suicide, animal abuse. I was honestly freaked out going in because of them. To be honest, I didn’t think they were that bad. It depends entirely of how much one person can handle, and triggers don’t usually affect me as much as it might others. I was most concerned about the animal abuse and rape trigger warnings – those are two things that I don’t handle very well in fiction.

However, for me the warnings were a bit strongly delivered for the content. I was expecting MUCH worse. It was potentially closer to sexual assault than outright rape View Spoiler » – most definitely non-consensual foreplay and most definitely uncomfortable. But there’s only two occurrences, and while they both made me quite uncomfortable, they thankfully were short and not horribly graphic. Again, I think it’s a matter of how much you can handle in the certain category of trigger warning. The content for the rape/sexual assault/non-consent TW is as follows: View Spoiler »

As far as the animal abuse, I am extremely relieved. I was going in expecting the lynx to be beaten frequently, and probably murdered. I even stopped when the lynx kitten came into play and posted in the Epic Reads Book Club group (this book was their pick for the February topic) asking if the kitten dies, because I refused to continue if she did. The content for the animal abuse TW is as follows: View Spoiler »

Regarding the other trigger warnings: The self harm & suicide was only mentioned briefly, and was from another damsel that came before Ama. At one point Ama burned herself and others were concerned it had been on purpose (it hadn’t), so they told of the previous damsel who had used pain as a distraction. As far as the abuse goes, it was basically all mental abuse and gaslighting. The content for the abuse TW is as follows: View Spoiler »

Okay, now that I’ve got the trigger warnings out of the way, let’s talk about the story! As far as the writing, I was torn. In the beginning, I was impressed by Arnold’s prose – it seemed engaging, even if it was a bit dry. However, there was a bit of ridiculousness at times, which I want to get out of the way before I talk about the things I enjoyed about the book. First of all, the use of the term ‘yard’ (and occasionally tusk, trunk, or horn lolol) in reference to Emory’s manhood had me snorting. (I’m told that it’s a medieval term for it, but I personally have NEVER heard that before, sorry.) I just couldn’t take it seriously because I kept picturing this dude with a 3-foot dick. (If you want a HILARIOUS recount of the horrible sexual phrasing, Mara YA Mood Reader’s review on Goodreads is fantastic and had me rolling!)

He was womb-bound, eyes unopened, breathing and swimming in the hot stew of his mother’s juice.

I just threw up in my mouth a little.

…and the thick meat of him, a fleshy tusk, white like ivory in the bed of curled black hair.

“Do you enjoy it?”
“Who would not? To be measured by the king’s yard is a pleasure and a privilege, both.”
“But,” struggled Ama, “What is the pleasure? I mean to say…what does it feel like?” […]
“Well, for the first, it feels all different ways. It can be a soft lump of warm dough, a handful of wrinkles and weight. And then it becomes a great thick horn, like the well-cooked leg of a turkey. And then, down betwixt my legs, it feels like…well, a key, perhaps, or a poker to a fire. It stirs me up. It takes me apart. It makes me feel myself like a lump of warm, moist dough.”

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR where do I even start with this?! I’ll just let you read Mara’s review.

Your sword is one weapon. Your mind is another. But you have a third, and to conquer the dragon you shall need all three.

Me: “Is it…is it his YARD?!” *snorting laughter*

View Spoiler »

So, on to the things I did like!! My favorite part about this, hands down – was Sorrow, and Ama’s relationship with her! I freaking LOVED Sorrow! I adore when books have an animal sidekick. I saw a few complaints about too much focus on what the kitten was doing, but I personally loved it! I wanted ALL THE KITTEN DESCRIPTIONS! She’s lapping up milk? Yes, tell me moar. She’s curled up in Ama’s lap? YES, TELL ME MOAR. There was actually a pretty heavy focus on Ama and Sorrow together in the middle, and I was all about it! View Spoiler » I honestly think this was the winning part for me, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much without the lynx. Also, side note: I love the Queen Mother and her cat collection/obsession. “My cats [are my release], of course. For me, it is always my cats.” It me lol!

I also loved how angry this book made me. But in a good way! The gender roles in the world of Damsel are VERY strong, almost over-exaggerated. Ama is expected to be the perfect, obedient bride; suffocating under male rule and expectations without complaint or question. It is her duty to bear a son, and she should be honored to serve her duty and be his wife, blah blah blah.

“Dearest, please accept my apology for my appearance last night in your quarters. It is certainly not my character to act in…such a passion-fueled manner. But who could blame me, when a beauty such as yourself is under my roof, and so close to being my wife? Certainly, many men would not have been able to restrain themselves at all, confronted with the same situation.”

“You are special, for you alone can bear the prince to come. No one else. Only you. Only the king can plant the seed, and only you can grow it. It is a unique privilege. A unique duty. To create a king! What more, dear girl, could a damsel hope for?”

This is how he likes me best…when I am in need of rescue.

“You see, Ama, it is for men to create. It is for men to decide. It is for men to speak. It is your place to listen, and follow, and gestate. And those are no small things! For without women to listen, how would the men’s words be heard? Without your fertile womb, how could my son hope to grow? You are important, Ama. Desperately important. But do not overreach.”

There were quite a few times where I felt absolutely sick reading because of the oppressive gender roles and disgusting misogyny. And I think that was exactly the point. To be honest, Elana did a fantastic job of bringing that emotion to the surface. But there was also a feministic righteousness to the story that I absolutely loved! The ending is SO. SATISFYING. But also a bit freaky? When I finished I was just like

What the actual fuck did I just read?? View Spoiler » The ending was quite powerful and satisfying, despite being a bit odd. FEMININE RAGE!! HIYAAAA!

“I have learned, lady, that ‘why’ is a dangerous word.”

“The weak wish. The strong act.”
“Perhaps sometimes,” she said, “the wish is the action.”

I also want to point out this passage (I shortened it a bit, cutting out everything but the conversation that I want to focus on)

*Man calls Ama lovely, and she doesn’t respond*
“Don’t you have anything to say, when a fellow gives you a compliment?” the man asked. “I said you’re pretty, didn’t I? What do you say to that?”
“Yes.” […]
“So you think you are pretty, do you?” And, to his companion, “Quite a head on this one. Her ma never taught her a thing about modesty, you reckon?”
“You’re not so great,” he said. “I’ve seen prettier. Ay, Rand? We’ve seen prettier by far.”
“The whore at the pub last week was prettier than this one, and not stuck-up about it, neither.”

This passage really resonated with me. If a woman doesn’t respond to unwanted compliments, she’s being rude and is in the wrong. Yet, if she agrees, she’s being conceited, and also in the wrong. Just like if a woman doesn’t have sex, she’s a prude. If she has too much, she’s a whore. I love that this book subverted so many tropes and made me think! I can definitely see why so many people hate it – it’s an awful, uncomfortable story, but was awful on purpose – and perhaps the execution wasn’t up to par for most, but it really worked for me!

Overall Assessment

Plot: 3.5/5
Premise: 4/5
Writing style: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Characters: 2.5/5
World-building: 2.5/5
Pace: 4/5
Feels: 4/5
Cover: 4/5
Overall rating: 3.5/5

Jessi (Geo)

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