Review of Damsel

by Elana K. Arnold
High School     Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins     312 pp.
10/18     978-0-06-274232-2     $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-06-274234-6     $9.99

This original fairy tale begins with Prince Emory on the dangerous quest required to prove himself worthy of his father’s recently vacated throne: saving a damsel from a dragon. But following the successful (off-page) rescue, it quickly becomes clear that our protagonist is the damsel herself, who has no memory of how she got to the dragon’s lair or of her life before it. Emory names her Ama and whisks her away to his walled kingdom to await their wedding day. Initially obliging, Ama soon begins to despair of her captivity and exploitation — and the cruel sense of ownership underlying Emory’s actions. Thematically supporting subplots include the lynx kitten Ama adopts after it is orphaned by Emory; the hawks blinded and tamed by the castle’s falconer; and the servants and villagers entirely at the new king’s whim. Eventually, after meeting the kingdom’s famed glassblower, Ama discovers an unusual aptitude for the craft and much-sought clues to her past. Hints along the way suggest Ama’s true origin and the nature of her “rescue” well before they are revealed, but the conclusion of her tale is nevertheless both surprising and satisfying. Though somewhat reminiscent in plot of Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, Arnold’s wrenching tale is more akin in theme and tone to Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (rev. 9/08) or The Brides of Rollrock Island (rev. 9/12) — lyrical, brutal, and unapologetically feminist.

From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, formerly editor of The Horn Book Guide, is a freelance children’s and YA editor. She's also a former bookseller who holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons University. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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