Damsel by Elana K. Arnold | SLJ Review

Gr 9 Up –Somewhere in medieval Europe, deep in a gray land by the gray sea, at the top of a craggy tower, a prince conquers a dragon and rescues a damsel.

redstarARNOLD, Elana K. Damsel. 320p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Oct. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062742322.

Gr 9 Up –Somewhere in medieval Europe, deep in a gray land by the gray sea, at the top of a craggy tower, a prince conquers a dragon and rescues a damsel. He names the woman Ama and delivers her to his castle where he will be made king and they will be married—for in this land, no king can exist without his damsel. Ama remembers nothing about herself, the world, or her experiences from before her rescue except flashes of bright color and a luscious, soothing heat. Her prince, however, is happy to teach her how to be a woman, and soon Ama learns to carve away at herself to fit neatly into her prince’s expectations. Art, exploration, and thinking are forbidden to her, and she is encouraged to take up as little space as possible. Inside, Ama rages and chafes against the physical and mental limitations imposed on her, and despite the warnings, Ama can’t stop wondering about the mystery of the dragons and who she was before. Graphic violence, sexuality, and rape are present on the page, though carefully presented to create a crucial juxtaposition to the lyrical writing. The characters’ roles, actions, and motivations are reflected through foils, revealing powerful symbolism and dramatic irony. All of this works to increase the tension, which comes to a dark but ultimately satisfying conclusion. VERDICT This incisively written allegory rips into a familiar story and sets it aflame. Highly recommended for high school libraries where literary feminist retellings are popular.–Leighanne Law, Scriber Lake High School, WA

This review was published in the School Library Journal June 2018 issue.

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