Title: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Published: October 2, 2018
Read as: US hardcover
Average Goodreads rating: 3.67
My rating: 4
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. (from Goodreads)
When she was queen, Ama thought, then her life would be surer. Certainly no one – not even the king – would dare to hurt the queen
~This book and the review below feature strong abuse themes~
When this book was first announced, I admit, I had little interest in it. It got shoved onto the back burner of my TBR and not thought of again. Then, lo and behold, the early reviews started coming in. Words like “dark” and “disturbing” were thrown around in those reviews like confetti. Many people, it seemed, even chose to DNF the book because of triggering content. Well, I am not one to say no to a disturbing book so I placed my preorder and cracked it open the day it was delivered.
The first few chapters, I admit, were a little mellow but I could feel a great deal of foreshadowing of the story that was to come. Hints were dropped, many not so subtly, about the big TA-DA that would be the story’s conclusion. However, only in hindsight did I put those clues together. My husband would be the first to tell you that I do not take hints well and that certainly proved true while reading this book.
An overshadowing theme of the plot involves abuse. Mentally, emotionally, and sexually. Our rescued Damsel, Ama, is informed that she is to be little more than a meek decoration meant for later breeding. While Ama internally fights against this, she feels pressured to obey the king who supposedly rescued her. She had no past, no family, and lives in a world where women are little more than doormats. While her fiery soul tells her that the way she is treated is not right, she feels helpless to do anything about it. To go out into the world alone without the protection of the castle would likely, and quickly, lead to her death and she knows it.
A large part of why Ama feels so helpless are the mental games that the king plays with her. He chooses his words carefully to make everything sound belittling, and like he is doing Ama a kindness instead of chipping away at any confidence or sense of self that she possessed. He is in fact engaging in mental and emotional abuse to manipulate Ama, who is his future queen, into doing exactly what he wants her to and nothing else. Making her feel beholden to him.
Now, this book is fairly short at 320 pages so I feel like if I ramble on too long here I will give something major away. I will say that the end of this book is oh so satisfying. I quite literally cackled with glee and I think that you will, too.