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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.

320 pages, ebook

First published October 2, 2018

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About the author

Elana K. Arnold

32 books969 followers

ELANA K. ARNOLD writes books for and about children and teens. She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing/Fiction from the University of California, Davis where she has taught Creative Writing and Adolescent Literature. Her most recent YA novel, DAMSEL, is a Printz Honor book, Her 2017 novel, WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and her middle grade novel, A BOY CALLED BAT, is a Junior Library Guild Selection. A parent and educator living in Huntington Beach, California, Elana is a frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and writers’ conferences. Currently, Elana is the caretaker of seven pets, only three of which have fur. Sign up for her newsletter here: https://elanakarnold.us10.list-manage...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,648 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
October 3, 2018
Secrets, like memories, do not disappear just because they are buried by snow or time or distance.

What an ugly, awful little book. I thought it was pretty awesome, too, but then I’m a fan of Arnold’s dark twisted feminist stories that most other people seem to hate.

It looks like Arnold is continuing her trend of writing horrible, depressing books that leave me in a constant state of anxiety while reading. What Girls Are Made Of ripped my heart to shreds last year, and this dark fairy tale just stomped on the pieces.

Damsel begins like many fairy tales. A prince takes on a dragon and sweeps a fair damsel out of the tower to be his future queen. This damsel - who the prince names Ama - has no memories of her life before waking in the tower. She only knows what Prince Emory tells her: that he has saved her, and she is bound by destiny to be his queen.

The tale gets nastier and nastier from there. The handsome rescuer is not all he first seems and it's not a spoiler to say this is absolutely NOT a fairy tale romance. Ama finds herself in a land where women must behave, play their role, and shut up about it. And, behind it all, there is the matter of her lost memories. Who was she before? Can she ever recover her past?

It is not particularly hard to guess some of the outcomes, but that didn't make it any less horrific or satisfying. I must also stress that this book contains very adult themes. It is being called YA, and yet I can't really understand why. Content warning for: Rape/sexual assault; abuse; self-harm; suicide; animal cruelty.

I would also say Damsel is driven by emotion and introspection, rather than action. Much of the book is about discovering the truth of Ama's past and suffering through the suffocating atmosphere of her being completely out of control of her life. But if you enjoy/can stomach dark books and creepy literary fantasy, then I would highly recommend this. It's a book that makes you mostly angry and sad, but that emotional impact is honestly why I'll remember it.

And open this spoiler if you're on the fence and wondering if the book might be too depressing:

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Profile Image for Brittney ~ Reverie and Ink.
260 reviews4,948 followers
December 20, 2018
I honestly can't give this one a rating, and that is largely due to the number of triggers - including graphic sexual assault, rape, self-harm, mental and physical abuse, suicide, and animal harm. Please please please be aware of that while making a decision on whether or not this book is for you. I sincerely hope the publisher adds warnings to the book itself and to the description on Goodreads. (More below...)

First off, the writing is gorgeous. Elana is extremely talented. This is a feministic Sleeping Beauty reimagining, with one of the most unique spins I've ever seen. I'll also add that the author was trying to make a point in this book, so the triggers were definitely done on purpose - with purpose.

However, I felt sick to my stomach during 90% of this book. I'm shocked this is marketed to YA readers without any warning about triggers.

In the first few chapters, we are thrown into the middle of Prince Emory's rescuing of the 'Damsel' he will wed to become king. I absolutely loved it, and I loved Emory - until his inner narration grazed over thoughts a previous sexual relationship. It was warning sign number one.

After Emory rescues the 'Damsel', we switch POVs. The rest of the book is told from Ama's perspective. She wakes up in Emory's arms with no recollection of who she is, where she was before, or her rescue.

Slowly, Emory becomes less of a prince and more a monster. In fact, his entire kingdom has jaded views of women.

SPOILERS BELOW (concerning the triggers):

So my ending thoughts are this - I have no idea what to make of the story. While I believe Elana is making an important point, I think the words could be harmful to those who aren't prepared. Please be 100% certain you are ready before you dive into this book!

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Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,406 reviews11.7k followers
May 20, 2021
For once, a book I'd suggested got picked by my beloved real life YA book club. Delighted to see not everyone hated it. Hooray!

Upon reread, my rating still stands, although when you know how this story will unfold, the tension is not quite as high. Still, very affecting, and I adore the ending.

Also #yard is a very upsetting word.
Printz Honor 2019

Called it! Called it!

Original review

4.5 stars

Oh boy, this novel is going to get so many 1-star reviews! This is what happens when a book like this is marketed as YA. Are there going to be any teens that would read and like it? I doubt it. This is a novel created for lovers of literary fantasy and ugly ancient fairy tales. It is written in a simple language, it does not have a lot of characters or drama. It is quiet and dreamlike. It might get a Printz nod (I hope) from librarians (they did give honor to The Kingdom of Little Wounds, and that book was a very out there too), but does it have a wide appeal? No way!

And yet, I loved it, I think? Although it is hard to love a story that keeps you in a state of perpetual dread throughout its entirety. It is a fairy tale about a young woman rescued from a dragon by a future king whose wife she is expected to become. She has no memories of her pre-dragon past, so her story is essentially a story of her "education" to transform into a suitable queen. It is the king's world, so she must become what HE (and men in general) expect her to become, regardless of what she herself thinks of these expectations.

I got flashes of The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories and The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty while reading Damsel, so I think you can get the gist of the mood of this "fairy" tale.
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,172 reviews98.8k followers
March 2, 2023
ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

“For Emory to take his father’s place as king, he must do as his father had done, and his father before him. He must conquer a dragon and rescue a damsel, and take that maiden as his bride.”

I get what this book was trying to do, I really do, and I appreciate it, but I just don’t personally think it was well done. This is a play on the “damsel in the tower, guarded by a dragon, and a brave knight comes to save her” but I don’t even feel like that was very powerfully done either. This just reads really boring, really forced, and really overly graphic. And a few of my friends have five starred and really loved this one, and I obviously don’t want my personal feelings to invalidate anyone, especially abuse survivors.

But this is a really graphic and dark book, so content and trigger warnings so much animal abuse and death, sexual abuse, sexual assault, threats of rape, physical abuse, emotional abuse, humiliation, captivity, talk of past rape, self-harm, gaslighting, grey area cheating, misogynistic and sexist comments, and I don’t really know if I want to call this rape or bestiality: but a scene where a guy has sex with an opening that his sword made on a dragon. (I can’t believe I just typed that!) But I just wanted to put this all out there before I really start this review, because these topics are going to get brought up.

Basically, in this world, from this small kingdom, a prince always goes to slay a dragon once the king dies so that he can prove himself a worthy ruler and become the new king. Once the prince, or king in waiting, slays the beast, he will rescue the damsel in distress, bringing her back to his kingdom so that he can get crowned and they can get married. She will then produce him one, male heir and the cycle will repeat forever and ever. The dream, right? Wrong.

The book starts out with us seeing Emory approaching this tower, then slaying the dragon, and then rescuing the girl to take back with him. He names her Ama, since she has no memory or recollection of her past and promises her that she will have a life that others only dream of having.

“The damsels are a legacy of nothing—no memory, no past, no family. Accept your nothing, and pray it stays that way.”

But you will quickly find out that this book is a statement on abuse, and how the cycle continues and continues throughout relationship and throughout generations who go on thinking abusive actions are okay and justifiable. Ama has no choice in any of the actions she performs, and her only escape is her pet lynx, Sorrow, who Emory constantly threatens to kill and uses as leverage for Ama to do his bidding.

And Emory is awful; he sexually assaults her, physically abuses her, allows his friend to do the same, and completely controls every aspect of her life and happiness. And he expects her to thank him for it. Again, there are a lot of parallels to our world, and this entire book is more of a statement to that testament. Yet, this book isn’t fun to read. And I don’t mean that in the, “books about abuse are always hard to read!” because hard and not enjoyable are two very different things. Yes, this was a hard book to read at times, but it was also ungodly forced, heavy handed, and boring, too. Oh, and if I ever read the word "yard" referring to a person's penis again, I am going to scream.

And the animal abuse in this was some of the worst I’ve ever read. That is a personal trigger for me, but something that I knew going in and believed I was in the right headspace for. Yet, it was very hard to read, especially because it continues to happen throughout. So, again, just, use caution, and I wanted to make note that this probably added to me not really enjoying the book even more so.

The one element I really did enjoy about this book is its minor discussion on gaslighting and sympathizing with your abuser. There were times that Emory was really sweet, kind, and giving to Ama and would make her question everything. There were times Emory was really convincing that the bad things that happened to Ama were her own fault. And there were times that you actually thought that maybe Emory wasn’t a complete piece of shit. Well, these are all tactics that abusers know and love, and I really did like how the author showed that in this story.

“I saved you,” Emory said.
And Ama believed him.”

Overall, I think you’re going to love this one or you’re just not. For as many friends that I have that have five starred this, I have even more that have DNFed it. This just reads so introductory and forced, to me personally. But I think both ends of the spectrum are very valid. And again, I’m sorry if this is one of your favorite reads of the year. But if you’re looking for feminist novels with a little more substance, that pack just as an emotional punch without feeling forced, I very much recommend: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Her Body and Other Parties, and The Power.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Candance at Literary Dust! ❤
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,743 reviews5,283 followers
November 4, 2021
When I first heard about this, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I saw it hailed as a dark fairytale retelling, but I’ve been promised that many times by other stories that delivered on the “retelling” while leaving aside any hints of the “dark” aspect. Damsel, on the other hand, is exactly what it promises—an incredibly dark fantasy story that pulls no punches.

“That is the way of being a woman, to carve away at herself, to fit herself to the task, but, also, to be able to carve herself in a different way, when a different shape is needed.”

The story itself is genuinely intriguing, and I loved Ama as a character. She’s so unapologetically herself, and she simply doesn’t grasp why things are the way they are, or why she’s expected to act or look certain ways. Even when she tries to make herself look small and sweet for the sake of self-defense, the rope always snaps and she comes out swinging in the end, a fighter in every sense of the word.

“The tastes of men are not all kind.”

Emory, on the other hand… I wanted to punch Emory in the throat from literally the first chapter. (I actually made a note in my eARC in chapter 1 saying as much.) He’s obsessed with himself and what he considers to be his heroic nature, and all of that’s even before the really terrible things about him come into play. Never trust the prince whose life goal is murdering a dragon, that’s what I always say… Emory embodies everything that’s wrong with the “damsel in distress” trope, the “Prince Charming” nonsense that films and books have fed us over the years, and the idea that any woman owes anything to a man who “saved” her from a dragon she never even sought rescue from.

Before Emory had saved her from the dragon, Ama had never been lonely.

Though there are multiple awful characters you will hate every moment of the way, and though the content is heavy and uncomfortable most of the time, the writing behind it all is so gorgeous and whimsical (despite a few phrases for genitalia that made me snicker), and Arnold is clearly skilled in her art. There are so many subtle things that came together in the end to surprise me, and I couldn’t put the story down because I constantly needed to know what would happen next.

“And if something is the way it has always been, who are we to wish it otherwise? Who are we to want anything at all?”

As for the dark subject matter: the heavy content is why this story meant so much to me. We see feminist fantasy stories released all the time in YA lately, but they’re usually tame and merely hint at issues. Damsel, on the other hand, takes those issues and shoves them right in your face, forcing you to address their existence. This book is full of sexual assault (some of it explicit), abuse of humans and animals, misogyny, rape culture, self-harm, and suicide. Through all of that, it’s clear that Arnold is fed up with the state of the world and has refused to pull any punches in her writing, and I applaud her for that brutal honesty.

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

A lot of people are questioning whether Damsel should be marketed as YA fantasy. While I wouldn’t otherwise have a problem with it being YA (as I’m a big believer that what teens read should be between them and their parents—plenty of teens will be able to handle this content without issue), a part of me thinks it would be better if Damsel was marketed to an adult audience, simply because I don’t feel like this story deserves to be punished for its truthfulness.

“Wild beasts are not meant to be tamed.”

All in all, if you’re interested in picking up a copy of Damsel, please be aware of the trigger warnings going into it. I have read a ridiculous amount of YA fantasy in my life, and very rarely has any of it made me feel quite as bothered and anxious as this book did. That said, I genuinely believe that sometimes—if we can handle it—we need to feel disgusted, to be reminded of just how toxic our society’s treatment of women can be. If you can stomach it, Damsel is the perfect resource to take you there.

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Balzer + Bray for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

You can find this review and more on my blog, or you can follow me on twitter, bookstagram, or facebook!
October 11, 2020

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Books like these are why I often find myself at opposite ends of the majority of the book-reviewing community. I don't typically like what's popular because I don't like what's predictable or easy; I like books that are raw and difficult and dark and challenge me and the way that I see the world, even if it means heartbreak and tears and playing hours of Animal Crossing to get myself back into the happy zone.

Despite the slightly rough beginning, DAMSEL is an incredibly dark story that feels YA in the way that THE POPPY WAR did, in that only the writing and the age of the characters are "young": everything else is incredibly disturbing. In this world, princes become kings by rescuing damsels from dragons. In the beginning of the book, we see Prince Emory challenging the dragon in its lair, but just before the final confrontation, the narrative changes and we are with a nameless girl that Emory christens "Ama" who awakens in the Prince's arms not knowing who she is or what has happened. All she knows is what Prince Emory tells her: that he saved her, and their destinies belong to each other.

DAMSEL explores so many unpleasant subjects: the sexism of classic fairytales, the cyclical nature of abuse, the selfish cruelty of "taming" something wild to make it your own, seeking independence and flouting convention, and courting danger to find freedom. It's clear from the beginning that Emory is not exactly Prince Charming. His cruelty to animals (one in particular was basically Bambi all over again and nearly made me cry), his objectification of women, and utterly self-serving nature make him odious... and yet, we can see why people are attracted to him: he is good-looking and he has power, and the fear he instills in people make it incredibly unhealthy to cross him.

Reading this book made me think of several different stories. THE LITTLE PRINCE (for the motifs on what it means to be tame vs. free), THE SHAPE-CHANGER'S WIFE (a woman who is captive to a cruel man's passions, and a meditation on changing the nature of things without a care for their hearts), and JUST ELLA (another story where the happily-ever-after really isn't all that happy, especially for headstrong princesses). There's also a little bit of THE HANDMAID'S TALE in here, in that Ama's situation, and the situation of the other women's lives in the castle, is an exploration of institutionalized sexism taken too far. It wasn't always an easy read (I skimmed a few portions, fearing they wouldn't turn out all right-- but they usually exceeded by expectations, cue sigh of relief).

My favorite part of the book was probably Sorrow, Ama's pet lynx kitten, and the disturbing comparisons in the narrative between "taming" a woman and a wild creature. This is an analogy that is in many books, and one in particular that struck me was E.M. Hull's THE SHEIK, a story about another woman taken as a captive bride, where she is broken as swiftly and without mercy as the wild stallions her captor breeds and keeps as pets-- and, like her, he isn't afraid to destroy them if they don't obey. Unlike Emory, Ama eventually learns that there is no pleasure to be had in taking something beautiful and a little wild, and robbing it of the qualities that made it the creature that it was.

I could gush about this story for another couple pages or so, but I think I need to rein myself in before I spoil anything. If you're a fan of authors like Tanith Lee or Angela Carter, I think you'll really enjoy this book. Elana K. Arnold is an author who isn't afraid to take risks with her narrative or her prose, and I know I'm going to be haunted by this story, and its characters, for a while.

5 stars
Profile Image for Mara YA Mood Reader.
342 reviews268 followers
January 17, 2020
**Skip this. Read Amy Harmon’s The Bird and the Sword instead

I don’t know how the heck I even got here. And I don’t know how the heck some books make it through publishing. Books like this. And why books like this are being marketed as YA when they are clearly not.

I think the main idea here was interesting. And I guessed it right away. The origin of the damsel. And if this were a true YA book it could have been something great.

But it was just so flat.

I was bored from page one.

The opening scene of the prince climbing a rockside cliff to slay a dragon took foreeeeever. It’s. Just. So. Painstakingly. Descriptive.

Also there’s no buildup? I don’t know we just jump right into slaying a dragon and collecting this damsel who will be the prince’s bride, he brings her to his castle and we jump straight into sexual and mental and emotional abuse from there.

Literally goes from charming, sweet prince and my fair lady to forced fingering and “I’m going to
Kill your beloved cat” with no context. No backstory, no info on why or how this privileged prince is an arse on occasion but typically just dull background noise??? There’s no moment of, Oh! And here enters the antagonist! No mystery no nothing.

And ugh the freaking cat. Not only was it completely appalling to throw disgusting animal abuse into this mess (the damsel acquires the kitten when the prince kills its mother on their trip back from dragon slaying) but then we have to know what the damn the kitten/cat is doing in like literally each paragraph there after: ‘The kitten was lapping up water like blah blah blah. Now the kitten was curled against her side sleeping like blah blah blah. Now the kitten was gnawing on a chunk of meat blah blah blah.’

Annnnnd I don’t want to forget to grace you with the ridiculous names used for the prince/king’s dick (He’s king now that he brought a damsel home to wed, btw). I mean I guess it was pretty unique, I’ve never referred to a man’s penis like this. Is that what made this YA?? —


”His yard”
“The King’s Yard”
“His tusk”
“His trunk”
(trunk or horn? Can’t remember)

I’m pretty sure trunk was in there toward the end. But we get a whole lot of this freaking “yard” business. Which I’m sure the men could appreciate having their manhood being compared to what I’m guessing is a reference to a yard stick? Which is about 3 feet I believe? So basically a “nice” way to say a big fucking dick?

Here’s a lovely quote just for fun from the chapter entitled, The King’s Yard:

”To be measured by the King’s yard is a pleasure and a privilege, both”
“What is the pleasure?...what does it feel like”
“The King’s yard? Or the pleasure it gives?”
“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.”

Baha. Bahahahahahahahaha. Are you still with me??? This is just fucking incredible. Ooooh hell next time I handle my man’s junk (never) I won’t be able to get WRINKLES AND WEIGHT ( haha balls) and, thick horns, and fucking turkey legs outta my brain hahahahahajajajanahjaajah oh god is this church talk for cock and balls?? Shit gonna scare a virgin here with these graphic descriptions of 3 feet long, giant turkey-leg dicks, dude.


I skipped through mostly the entire thing. And then skimmed over interactions between this king and damsel. And it’s not good. I’ll list why:

-Animal abuse
-Mental/Emotional abuse
-Sexual abuse (forced handy, forced fingering, other unwanted advances)
-then it ends

Good night.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
February 13, 2019
2.5 stars. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:

Damsel has an absolutely gorgeous cover, one of the loveliest I’ve seen, with a glowing title wound about with vines, bleeding hearts and other flowers.


But on closer examination there’s something just a little bit off about the cover image. An anatomically correct heart. A golden spur with a myriad of sharp points. A dragon’s pointed tail. It’s a bit disturbing. And it’s an apt metaphor for the contents of Elana K. Arnold’s book, where the fairy-tale details initially mask an allegorical story that is far, far darker.

Prince Emory is on a quest, a traditional rite of passage in his kingdom: He is traveling to the gray lands to conquer a dragon, rescue a beautiful young damsel, and bring her back to his kingdom to be his wife, as his father and forefathers have done before him. The hazards of his journey to the dragon’s lair and his tension-filled battle with the dragon are related in detail, until the story of the fight abruptly ends mid-scene.

Suddenly we shift forward in time and to the young maiden’s point of view: She awakens to find herself in Emory’s arms, riding home with him on his horse. She has no idea who she is, no prior memories except vague shadows. Emory explains to her that he rescued her from a dragon, and that they are each other’s destiny.
“I saved you,” he said again ― Why did he keep saying that? she wondered ― “and I will keep you safe.”

The maiden nodded as if she believed him. Did she? Perhaps. It did not matter if she believed him. What she believed would change nothing.
Since she remembers nothing, he gives her the name of Ama (“A woman’s name should begin with an open sound, don’t you think?”). They return to Emory’s castle, where Ama is pampered but unhappy, as everyone around her cheerfully prepares for her wedding to Emory, but it’s clear her concerns and point of view aren’t respected. It’s a man’s world where women are subservient, and despite some kindnesses, Emory uses Ama for his own desires and purposes, and everyone expects compliance from Ama … and in fact from all women, excepting perhaps the queen mother.

Damsel is a dark allegory about male domination of women (both sexually and in other ways) dressed as a fairy tale. It begins with a few uncomfortable details ― Emory sleeping with various castle servants, Emory’s father (who died shortly before the story begins) taking him on a rather bloodthirsty hunt ― but gets gradually more intolerable for Ama and for the reader as the story progresses. Women need to obey, to be attractive even if it’s unpleasant, to bury their own feelings and desires for the convenience of men, to give up freedom and accept societal bondage. The ending is violent and cathartic, but there’s a lot of ugliness to wade through before you get there.

I don’t recall there being any admirable male characters in the pages of this book, and the allegory is not a subtle one, at all. It’s a message novel, a story told to make a point. I didn’t care for it, but it will resonate with a lot of readers. “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado deals with similar issues in a more interesting and literary way, for my money.

Damsel is marketed as a YA novel, but there’s explicit sexual content, on top of the disturbing world it creates. I definitely would not recommend it for younger teens. Older readers may appreciate the feminist message in this allegorical fantasy, but understand that it’s a story designed to make readers distressed and angry.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review.

Content note: Sexual content, abusive relationships.
Profile Image for Jackie.
631 reviews42 followers
May 7, 2018
This book is fucking terrible.

“Damsel” tells the story of a prince off to slay a dragon and rescue a girl who he will take home to be his queen. When she awakes she has no memory of her rescue, her family or her very name and is left at the mercy of the prince who takes her back to his kingdom and mother, but things are not as they seem and she soon finds herself struggling to come to terms with her present while hunting for the answers in her past.

Where to begin because holy shit. How about we start with the fact that this is categorized as a young adult but it is written as something far older, shout out to the c*nt insult being used here like it’s nothing! Speaking of which there’s not one, not two but three rape scenes all on the main character! We’ve got the actual act, interrupted penetration and a forced hand job! The word “breast” itself is used a whopping 25 times because this entire book is about a fuckboy royal who everyone just shrugs their shoulders at, and his dick is discussed 19 times. But that’s not all folks this charmer is also physically abusive and parades her around on a leash because that’s cool.

It wasn’t even like this kind of awfulness was done in a way to make you realize how bad her situation was, that was done pretty quickly just given her ambiguous rescue and amnesia, and the payoff was a generous two sentences. I sat through absolute horror and the constant degrading of women (they’re referred to whores and sluts by every single character or called vessels to be filled when trying to be nice) for that ending? Absolutely not.

I’m almost amazed a woman wrote this and not once thought maybe I need to rethink things. I would give this zero stars if I could and I’m deleting it from my kindle because I unfortunately can’t delete it from my memory.

**special thanks to the publishers and edelweiss for providing an arc in exchange for a fair and honest review**
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
720 reviews1,114 followers
August 17, 2020
“It is a Kings world in which we find ourselves, Ama. A woman, you see, is a vessel. And it is a vessels duty to be filled.”

4 stars ⭐️

What an absolutely ferocious retelling of the Princess in the Tower!

Prince Emory of Harding knows his place. In order to become King he must slay a dragon and rescue a damsel. Once his task is complete he brings the damsel home to become his wife and future Queen.

Ama is said damsel. She remembers nothing from before her rescue. Nothing of her past, her family, not even her real name. Emory gives Ama her name - she is his in all things.

Be warned - there are dark themes including rape, animal abuse and emotional abuse. These all add to create an atmosphere of dread, something isn’t right in the town of Harding.

“Before Emory had saved her from the dragon, Ama had never been lonely.”

I loved the new elements thrown in - such as the wall of eyes created by the Glassblower rumoured to grant the wish of anyone brave enough to steal one. But get caught and it’s an eye for an eye.

The only thing for me that stopped it from being a 5 star is I just wanted a bit more. the world was so fascinating I just could have done with a bit more.

“Surely we are more than just the men we serve...what were we before we were taken by dragons? Before we were rescued by men?” “That is a dangerous question dear heart.”

But honestly this is a cracking feminist retelling that I’d highly recommend.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books467 followers
February 6, 2022
“Sorrow is no more your name,” Ama announced, her voice louder. “Now I call you Fury.”

Damsel is Elana K. Arnold’s 2018 Printz Award-winning YA fantasy. Almost the entirety of this review will be on the subject of sexual violence and misogyny, and spoilers follow.

So What’s It About?

Ama awakens in the arms of a handsome prince, remembering nothing of her past or who she is. She is told that she has been rescued from a fearsome dragon, that she is the prince’s Damsel, won through the glory of battle and signifying his right to the throne, destined to become his bride and bear his son. She is told that the danger is past, but nothing could be further from the truth.

What I Thought

The phase “feminist YA fantasy” sure does get tossed around a lot lately. Most of the time I’ve found these books to be quite disappointing in the feminist sense, in that they mostly revolve around one girl who is more special than all the other girls and wants to be the queen of a country, killing a lot of people in the process. This book is what I’ve been craving the whole time, I think. Its words drop like jewels, deliberate and precise in their fury, the atmosphere of dread growing and growing – this is by no means an easy book to read, but I consider it all the more important to read because of this fact.

Damsel examines the typical dynamics of a fairy tale to tell the story of a sexist world, one that wants a girl to be nothing but a helpless decoration, important as a status symbol and unimportant as a human being, valued only for her capacity to create more male life. Ama learns of duty and she learns of submission, and she learns of the constant contrasting demands that the world makes of women:

Everything was her blame. Too stupid to find her way back to her room. Too effusive with her emotions. Too inquisitive with the kitchen girl. She was too much and not enough, both in the same instant. Too big and too small, too bright and too dull, too affectionate and not affectionate enough.

At the heart of the story is the relationship between Ama and her pet lynx Sorrow. Throughout much of the story Sorrow is what Ama clings to with love and desperation, and ultimately she decides to let the cat go free when she realizes that further confinement and “breaking in” will kill the cat. In the process she renames her Fury and gives her the kind of wild freedom that she cannot find for herself. It’s an effective and tragic metaphor for her own confinement and process of being broken over the story, as well as her eventual act of breaking free. The change from Sorrow to Fury is one of moving from paralysis and hopelessness to action and insistence upon change.

Ama is a revelation of a character. In many ways she is quiet and passive and overwhelmed, which is not surprising because she is learning how to be a person after awakening with no memories and her entire reality being shaped by what Emory tells her- and specifically he tells her that what she wants does not matter, that who she is beyond being his Damsel does not matter. The remarkable thing is that that Ama insists the opposite in her own quiet way: that what she wants matters, that she matters:

“And if something is the way that it has always been, who are we to wish it otherwise? Who are we to want anything at all? Who are we to desire?”

Unbidden, in a flash, came the image of Fury bounding through snow under a bright-blue sky.

“I desire,” said Ama.

What is especially interesting about Damsel is that it is conscious that Ama is both oppressed and privileged at the same time. Notably, when Emory publicly humiliates Ama at one point the queen chastises him only because he treats her as though “she were a scullery maid and not your future queen.” Ama’s relationship with her maid Tillie is also very interesting – at first she thinks that she is being magnanimous to Tillie and putting them on equal footing by asking her to be honest with her, but she realizes that ultimately the power dynamic would still exist in their relationship, and that she would still be asking Tillie to carve away pieces of herself in the same way that Ama is forced to carve away pieces of herself:

That is the way of being a woman, to carve away at herself, to fit herself to the task, but, also, to be able to carve herself in a different way, when a different shape is needed.

Damsel portrays the ugliness that underlies the principle of chivalry and its alleged kindness. This book shows that misogyny comes in many forms, some of them outright cruel and violent and others much more subtle and insidious – and that ultimately, they are two sides of the same coin. Emory’s chivalry makes Ama an object and a conquest, and it engenders his sense of entitlement to her body and the utter control he enacts over her life. The dynamic of violation in the relationship between Ama and Emory is an incredibly difficult one to read, and ultimately it is revealed that the very act of rescuing her was founded in rape. In my review of Le Guin’s Tehanu, I spoke of the way that toxic masculinity builds itself upon false power. The same is true here, and it turns out there are many ways for that power to come tumbling down. In this case, it was a visceral joy to find out.

One thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about is the way that Ama’s liberation ultimately comes about. It reminds me a lot of the final confrontations in Deerskin and Tehanu – the abused girl suddenly discovers a reserve of magical power that was previously unknown, and uses that magic to defeat her abusers and liberate herself once and for all. I can’t help but feel that the use of random magic as these girls’ means of escaping patriarchal control is always a little bit disappointing from a feminist perspective; I’d probably prefer if their liberation came about through a different means other than sudden magic. However, I suppose that you could make the argument that their magic powers can serve as a metaphor for other forms of empowerment.

Overall, though, this book seeped its way into my heart and I know I will be thinking about it for a long time to come. It is disconcerting, visceral and full of the pain and anger that many of us already know all too well. May Sorrow become Fury for every person who reads this book and already knows Ama’s story because it is part of their own.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
January 7, 2019
***BEWARE OF SPOILERS!*** Rating: we start at 5 stars:
- Bestiality: -1 star
- 'Yard'? Can't body parts be named properly if we already are considering bestiality? There is a whole chapter in there aptly named 'The King's Yard', in which they valiantly try to discuss the aforementioned 'yard'. And I'm not kidding. -1 star
+ Some ideas that I loved (see above): +1 star
- Some ideas I hated (see above): -1 star
+- Feminism: eh... while it's totally cool, we should consider that it should be dragonism, which I would totally endorse: +- 1 star
+ Reasonable language and writing: +1 star
+ I like the cover: +1 star
- Self-harm and debates of 'release'... I don't think it's a 'light' subject that should be treated 'oh, so you burned your hand crispy, well, you've gotten your release, haven't you? good for you!': -1 star
- Tacky (and wacky!) plot in basically a kids' book: -1 star
Overall: 3 stars should be fair and square, I think.

Okaaay, my dear little kids, sit in a circle and let Elana K. Arnold retell you a terrible little prince vs. dragon tale.

It was true, what Emory said: as long as there had been kings, there had been conquered dragons and damsels brought from their lair. (c)

So, there was once a kingdom, where there were princes, damsels and dragons.
And, obviously, there weren't enough damsels to go around between princes. So... the princes decided to fuck their dragons with their nifty little 'yards' that they obviously have always at their disposal (yes, this point WAS DISCUSSED in there!).

Of course, the princes, insist that they have a lot of assets about them:
Q: “three weapons to conquer a dragon and free a damsel. My brain. My steel. And my yard.” (c)
but while I'm sure they could do something about both the 'steel' and the 'yard', there is something very addled about the 'brains' they are supposed to have - since they don't seem to be using those at will.

Just look at this gem:

When he struck it, a tree should fall. That is what trees do. That is what they had always done, trees. It was their duty.
But these last trees would not fall, and when Emory struck them with his sword an awful clang rang out, and the impact of the blow vibrated up through Emory’s sword arm and rattled all of his bones.
Not even a dent. Unacceptable.
Yet he had been forced to accept it, (c) That's our noble prince Emory battling a tree. I can't just visualize him explaining to this tree its duties. One can only hope that these duties are not duties of marriage. Though, considering how this prince 'loves' his dragons, I wouldn't be surprised had he decided to fuck a tree as well.

This guy has manners:
Then, knowing the dragon was watching, he unbuttoned the front of his trousers, freed his yard, and pissed a steaming stream right there, at the top of the cliff, marking it as his own. (c)
... his great hot jet of urine, ...(c)
took his water bladder from his side and sucked like a babe at the teat until it was empty. (c)
“You dare to burn the hand of my bride?” ...
“Do you mean . . . my hand?” Ama asked.
“Your hand does not only belong to you, Ama. (c)

While I'm sure this story gives a lot of comfy feministic vibe and message and eveything else to other people, I'm not feeling it. And, frankly, had some teen felt it (this is for teens? right?), I would have been sort of uneasy around them.
“I made you beautiful,” Emory said again, again.
“You keep saying that,” Ama answered. “But I did not ask for your beauty. I made beauty all on my own. I did not need you then.” (c)
“You shall have to learn for yourself, I suppose,” he said grudgingly, “that wild beasts are not meant to be tamed.” ...
“One should not make a pet out of a wild beast,” Ama said. (c)
“I think,” Ama said, “that I do not wish to marry you. Or to be queen. I want none of it.” (c)

Self-harm, of course:
“Why would I want a burn?” Ama asked, reapplying the bandage.
“Everyone takes release somewhere,” the queen mother answered. ... “The queen before me—the mother to my king—they say she found her release in pain. (c)

Nice words/ideas, which somewhat excuse the very unfortunate imagery above:
And we shall meet at the altar, and be wed, and I shall be king, and you, queen, and you shall birth me a son, and you shall find all the beauty you have need of in my arms and in his eyes. For that is the way it has always been, and that is the way it shall always be, from the beginning of time to the end of it. (c)
For he knew it was the dragon’s blame that the trees had turned to gray stone, just as it was the dragon’s blame that this part of the world was misted dark with unspilled rain, and the dragon’s blame that the sea was slate gray instead of blue-green, and the dragon’s blame that the unblinking eye of the sun was dulled by a cataract of gray. (c) Of course, the dragon's always gets the blame. Poor guy.
She opened her eyes to gaze at her beloved, the sun, and found that it had grown closer. (c)
The way the grasses dipped and swayed as if in waves of green water; the brown and gold birds that flew up out of the grasses, like hidden treasure, when Reynard startled them; the one diamond-backed snake that slithered across their path, emerging suddenly, gazing at them through slit eyes, causing Emory to draw Reynard up short, then disappearing just as quickly into the thick deep grass on the other side of the trail, its skin as shiny as polished wood. (c)
And though she did not speak, she told the lynx, with every hair on her head, every inch of her flesh, I respect you. I honor you. I leave you in peace. (c)
Secrets, like memories, do not disappear just because they are buried by snow or time or distance. (c)
“The weak wish. The strong act.”
“Perhaps sometimes,” she said, “the wish is the action.” (c)
“Sorrow is no more your name,” Ama announced, her voice louder. “Now I call you Fury.” (c)
Profile Image for Vicky Again.
602 reviews812 followers
October 12, 2020
Content Warnings:

This is not a book for everyone, but it was the book for me.

I can feel all the people cringing away from this book, and this is very valid and no one will fault you for not reading it. It's a very graphic book marketed towards the YA audience, and DNFing is a completely valid thing to do.

As you can see by the long list of trigger warnings, this can be very dark and VERY surprising if you're unprepared. Right off the bat, I say this book is for 16+, mayyybe 15+. I wouldn't really hand this to a freshman.

I'm 17, and although I never struggled with reading the content and it's graphic scenes, nor did I ever feel tangible, physical discomfort, it was still very emotionally impactful. (I've also never had personal experience with any of the TWs, which is largely why.)

Because this is a powerful, powerful book, hidden under layers and layers of anger and hurt and pain. It's ugly, it's twisted, and it's not something everyone can love.

But it was something I loved.

Right off from the start, there were so many subtle hints dropped about Prince Emory and how he's a terrible person and basically the epitome of the patriarchy. In retrospect, the way it was done is completely genius in the way it was done and Arnold is AMAZING.

Even in chapter one, you can start seeing the true nature of Emory's character and how he begins to "brainwash" Ama into following his rules and acting how he wants her to act.

This is shown in the very act of naming her Ama, in the way he kills the lynx, in the way he intentionally leaves information out, in the description of his first kill, in how he pees all over the mountain top and stakes his claim.

The signs are everywhere. And it builds and builds and builds into this really strong and devastating (yet quietly triumphant) story.

There's genuinely nothing happy about this story (except those couple lines at the end) and it is dark and twisted and ugly and gruesome and overall, really depressing. But it's the truth, and I found a strong sense of triumph about how the ugliness of man was exposed in a way that emphasizes the flaws of fictional tales from our past (see: Sleeping Beauty).

Arnold wrote it really well, and it felt like a fable was being read to you with the luscious descriptions and purposeful narration. The atmosphere was just so on point and extremely heavy I wanted to cry reading the first few pages even though nothing was really happening and off the atmosphere (and some of the hints about Emory) alone.

It's how Damsel manages to really grab at your heart that I found to be this book's best quality. For many other writers, telling this tale would end up just being sad and depressing and overall a bring-everyone-down (see: I Stop Somewhere by T.E. Carter). But the way Arnold writes it with truth and care amidst the shock is that's really what I felt redeemed this book.

Damsel exposes all the things that we've somehow become conditioned to accept as nearly normal, and it shows us that this is not right and that society and the people in society need to change.

She shows us just how ugly we humans are, and in a way, how the princes in our fairytales are so similar to Emory. Sure, they can be charming, but they've also probably never worked for equality in any of the fairy tales, either.

Damsel lets us explore the gruesome yet true side of humanity and oppression in a way that is the most horrifying in the way that it rings true.

It's a social commentary of our real world. It's terrifying and disgusting and gruesome but it's the truth for so many people out there.

If you're looking for a rallying tale of women taking down an oppressive system, find something else to read. But if you're looking for a stark and true commentary on the realities of what women have gone through and what they continue to go through, keep reading.

I want to end my review with this quote from the author:

"Damsel is about waking up female in a man’s world. It’s about power, and abuses of power by powerful men. It’s about secrets. It's about pride, and anger, and action. I put my anger into this book, and I surprised myself with what my anger and I created."
Profile Image for B.
120 reviews12.2k followers
July 12, 2019
When Ama awakes with no memory to her prince telling her he saved her from an evil dragon, she’s forced to believe it. But not everything is as it seems.

This book was- disturbing and gripping at the same time. The feminist and dark themes tackled were hard at times but incredibly vital. Overall, it was pretty good! Not amazing, but I definitely loved the ending
Profile Image for Patricia Bejarano Martín.
440 reviews5,547 followers
March 31, 2019
Damisela es una novela autoconclusiva que me ha fascinado por completo.
Este libro recoge parte de la tradición clásica literaria y le da una vuelta de tuerca para crear esta historia tan necesaria e increíble.
Todos hemos leído, visto o escuchado alguna vez una historia donde un joven y apuesto príncipe, cabalga a lomos de su corcel para rescatar a una dama de un temible dragón. Y así es como comienza esta historia, con el príncipe Emory yendo a rescatar a esta damisela en apuros, y es que debe cumplir esta misión si quiere convertirse en Rey. Así lo dicta la tradición.
Los primeros capítulos, que son el momento del rescate, están narrados desde el punto de vista del príncipe Emory, y todo parece muy heroico, donde vemos a ese príncipe como al que siempre nos han presentado en los cuentos clásicos.
Una vez la damisela es rescatada, los capítulos están todos narrados desde su punto de vista. Ella no recuerda NADA de su estancia en el castillo del dragón. No sabe ni siquiera quién es o quién es su familia. Incluso Emory le da su nuevo nombre, Ama. A partir de ese momento, ambos se dirigen a Harding, el reino de Emory, donde se preparará la boda para ambos en poco tiempo.
Ama se siente abrumada porque no está muy segura de lo que está sucediendo, ni que sea lo que ella quiere o incluso que sea lo mejor para ella. A partir de su llegada a la corte, iremos viendo como se adapta al lugar y como nada es lo que parece ser.
Ama es un personaje muy potente y al que es imposible no coger cariño. Sentía cada cosa que ella narraba en mi interior. Su situación es muy complicada y los cuentos de hadas no son como nos los habían contado. Ella se enfrenta a situaciones por las que ninguna querríamos pasar y lo hace con la mayor entereza posible.
Algo que me ha fascinado es como al principio del libro conocemos al típico príncipe que siempre nos presentan y como poco a poco la autora va mostrando su verdadera cara mientras pasa la novela. Es también duro ver como nos han presentado ciertas historias durante nuestra vida y que nunca nos hayamos planteado cómo se podría sentir la chica en dichas historias.
Os aviso que este libro tiene escenas muy desagradables. El abuso está muy presente en esta historia y no es fácil leerlo. Sentiréis frustración e impotencia, pero es que esas escenas son muy necesarias para la evolución de los personajes y de la historia. Son duras, sí, pero hacen que reflexiones mucho sobre ciertos temas.
Y por supuesto, tantas intrigas y misterios hacen que esta novela tenga un final apoteósico que te deja con la boca abierta.
Si estáis preparados para leer una novela de fantasía con un mensaje de empoderamiento femenino al máximo, que os haga reflexionar sobre muchos temas y que os tenga muy enganchados, esta es vuestra historia.
Siento que con esta reseña no hago justicia a la novela y a lo que ha significado para mí, pero es que yo no tengo el don de la palabra, cosa que esta autora sí que tiene.
Profile Image for Cesar.
365 reviews237 followers
December 25, 2019
5 stars.

I would need a thesaurus to describe just how much I loved Damsel. What started as trepidation based on the rating turned into excitement and love the more I got into the story. And by the time I finished it, I absolutely loved Damsel.

Before I get into my review, Damsel is not for the faint of heart as the story does deal with a lot of subject matter including but not limited to: sexual assault, animal abuse, rape, self-harm, and more. The content of the story can be dark and hard to get through, but it's all challenged by the main character, Ama, and Arnold's writing goes above and beyond at calling out misogyny. But keep in mind the content warning.

On to the review.

Damsel is a pro-feminist take on the damsel in distress trope. The story begins with the crown prince, Emory slaying a dragon in order to rescue the damsel. After the dragon is defeated, Ama wakes up in the arms of the prince who rescued her. Ama is thankful but after a while of getting to know Emory and how she is supposed to be submissive and not ask questions, Ama starts to question everything including her past.

Damsel surprised me, to say the least. When I first started seeing the mixed reviews and the rating, I was skeptical about it but after some thinking and reading more reviews, I took the plunge and bought it and I don't regret it. This 300-page book has so much packed into it. Every page was written beautifully in the type of flowery language that isn't dragging and doesn't take 2 or 3 paragraphs to describe something (looking at you, The Tiger's Daughter). Ama as a character was so lovable and head-strong. And Arnold's way of conveying such strong emotions was done perfectly.

As mentioned earlier, this is a pro-feminist story that challenges the idea of the fairy tale trope of the damsel in distress. In Damsel, Ama asks why when she is told repeatedly that she shouldn't ask about anything and just stay quiet. But Ama goes beyond that, developing her own agency, pointing out the flaws of Emory and the way women are treated, and when she's tossed down, she gets back up. A great character.

Damsel is a difficult read, but it's worth it knowing how much emotion and thought Arnold put into it. Definitely one of my favorites of 2019.
Profile Image for Jeff Zentner.
Author 9 books2,233 followers
March 28, 2018
Elana Arnold is a master of writing the struggles of young women and the violence they endure. DAMSEL is a story that feels both modern and ancient, a harrowing and compelling gothic fairytale of a young woman passing through fire to reclaim herself. It reads like a pre-Grimm-Brothers fairytale, before they were sanitized bedtime stories, when they went to the darkest reaches of the human heart to bear witness of who we really are.

You will not be able to put this book down. You will not be able to look away.

Profile Image for Alana.
685 reviews1,307 followers
June 4, 2018
tw: rape, physical/sexual/emotional assault, mentions of suicide & self harm

There were things I really loved about this and then there were other things that legitimately turned  my stomach. Because of that I've been struggling on what to rate this book. I simply can't justify the things I loved without shedding light on the topics I had trouble with because HOLY TRIGGERS, there's a lot. But at the same time I can't write a review on the things I had trouble with without recognizing the things I enjoyed.

My main and biggest concern with this book is that it is YA, meaning 12 year old children who read YA can easily and unknowingly get their hands on this. And by no means am I dictating what children should be reading but there are no warnings about any of the triggering topics in this book. I personally understand the reason for all of these topics to be a huge part of the book, but I think a younger audience may not pick up on it so easily. (We're talking about a 10+ year gap between myself and 12 year old children)

Initially, I really loved this story. The writing was phenomenal, and remained phenomenal throughout the book. I absolutely cannot take that away from the author. There are very few if any fantasy novels that I can devour in just about one sitting. However, as we got deeper and deeper into the story and got to see Prince Emory for who he truly is I became more and more unsettled that this was a YA book. I do have to admit though this was super unique and the ending kind of blew my mind (in good ways and super unsettling ways).

All in all, I think this book would have faired better under the NA category to make sure it falls into the right hands.

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Profile Image for julia.
860 reviews156 followers
June 5, 2021
ғᴏᴜʀ⋆⁵ sᴛᴀʀs

One should not make a pet out of a wild beast.

♫ sᴏɴɢ ʀᴇᴄ ♫ ~ Castle (HALSEY)

·★· ᴛᴀᴋᴇ ᴏɴᴇ ~ ɪɴɪᴛɪᴀʟ ᴛʜᴏᴜɢʜᴛꜱ ·★·

Honestly, my brain is still processing this gorgeous piece of literature. For now all I'll say is this; when Nenia Campbell gives a book 5 stars you best drop everything to read it. That ending. So freaking satisfying.

·★· ᴛᴀᴋᴇ ᴛᴡᴏ ~ ᴛʜᴇ ʙʀᴇᴀᴋᴅᴏᴡɴ ·★·

·★· 𝗙𝗜𝗥𝗦𝗧 𝗧𝗛𝗜𝗡𝗚𝗦 𝗙𝗜𝗥𝗦𝗧 ·★· I just want to say, DAMSEL is not a romance. I'm not sure why, but I went in thinking it was a romance and, well, it made for some very awkward moments. Honestly, though, I'd love to see Elena K. Arnold's take on a straightforward romance. Man, it would probably be brutal, bloody, feminist as fuck, and deeply romantic.

·★· 𝙎𝙀𝘾𝙊𝙉𝘿𝙇𝙔 ·★· this book is a bit slow to start. I want to note that DAMSEL, while amazing, is a bit slow to start. I personally loved how MS. ARNOLD slowly introduced us to her twisted fairytale. Part one very much lays the groundwork for what's to come. We witness Emory 'rescue' Ama from the dragon, we see probably the saddest death in the entire book, and we quickly realize somethings not quite right in regard to Emory.

·★· 𝗧𝗛𝗜𝗥𝗗𝗟𝗬 ·★· this book is dark and I loved it all the more for it. One of the best parts of DAMSEL was just how dark ELENA ARNOLD allowed the story to get. She didn't shy away from displaying Emory's subtle cruelness, and I loved how we slowly uncovered the darkness lurking in the palace. Watching Ama navigate such a cold and harsh environment was both anxiety inducing, but also darkly entertaining. In addition, the violent moments (those perpetrated by Ama) - especially the moment at the end - felt like a balm to my cold dark soul.

·★· 𝐈𝐍 𝐀𝐃𝐃𝐈𝐓𝐈𝐎𝐍 ·★· I loved how much DAMSEL felt like a gothic grim fairytale. DAMSEL is unabashedly a fairytale through and through. In fact, it appears to revel in its grim origins. Not only that, but MS. ARNOLD excellently flips the typical fairytale mold on its head. Through Emory she displays the more toxic aspects of the traditional fairytales. Moreover, she also allows Ama to become her own 'knight in shining armor', thus once again flipping the traditional 'damsel in distress' trope.. Therefore, if you go into DAMSEL expect an extreme fairytale vibe. This book wholeheartedly reads like a whimsical - albeit dark - story.

·★· 𝗟𝗔𝗦𝗧 𝗕𝗨𝗧 𝗡𝗢𝗧 𝗟𝗘𝗔𝗦𝗧 ·★· the ending was fan-fucking-tastic!! Truly, it was one of the most satisfying endings I've read in a long time. It not only felt earned, but it also brought everything full circle. It also felt like the culmination of Ama's character arc, and it was truly breathtaking to see Ama reach her full potential. Moreover, it didn't erase all the pain and suffering Ama had gone through, and personally, I liked that. It didn't feel like a magic bandaid, instead it felt like a distinct end to a somewhat brutal fairytale. Ultimately, I highly recommend DAMSEL, and I am truly perplexed as to why it has such a low-rating here on Goodreads. Truly, I am confused.
Profile Image for Anny.
675 reviews318 followers
May 2, 2019
Damisela es una novela que devoré. Literalmente. En 24 horas. Porque una vez que la empiezas, que estás en un cuento de hadas que quizás... tan de hadas no es, es imposible soltarlo.
Me ha encantado (muchísimo) cómo la autora trata una historia tan típica que hemos visto siempre: príncipe apuesto salva a una damisela y la convierte en su reina. Solo que en esta historia es diferente. ¿Realmente la damisela quiere ser salvada? ¿Realmente desea convertirse en reina y hacer todo lo que le dicte la sociedad? ¿No hablar, ser sumisa, no dar problemas, engendrar hijos? En esta novela vemos el punto de vista de la protagonista, de cómo es rescatada y llevaba al castillo, donde debe casarse con el principe.
Poco a poco, a medida que avanza, y no recuerda absolutamente nada de su pasado, impotente y con mucha frustración se da cuenta de que no es realmente lo que quiere. Quiere ser libre y conocer su pasado.
Es una historia que contiene pasajes muy duros, con temas como la violencia, las violaciones, entre ellos.
No encariñarse con Ama, es imposible. Porque desde el principio sientes una conexión con ella, con su historia y sinceramente me ha encantado.
Para para que el final... fuera una pasada. Porque me enamoró. Me encantó.
Profile Image for Sabrina.
477 reviews252 followers
July 4, 2018
That end was just what I need it.
Die fucker, bye you pissed of shit, you will not be missed.

This is the sort of book that is going to get a lot of 1 stars rating our none at all.
Is hard to give a rating for this one, being that involves so many triggers.
But overall, a very interesting story. The writing is solid. Very short.

“One should not make a pet out of a wild beast”

TW: violence of all types; animal harm and self harm.


➳Thank you Edelweiss and the publisher for an ARC of this book.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sunny.
277 reviews254 followers
December 31, 2018
This is the most weirdly horrific book I've ever read in my entire life.

"One should not make a pet out of a wild beast."

Told through the classic "prince saves the damsel in distress from the big bad dragon" tale, Elana K. Arnold explores the most severe forms of sexism through the unique creation of her fantasy world. Prince Emory must find a dragon, save the damsel, and then marry her in order to become a true King. This is how it has always been, and this is how it will always be. So when Ama, our protagonist, awakes in the arms of her savior prince with no other memories from her time before this moment, she finds herself prepping to be queen in a kingdom she knows nothing of.

Note: this is NOT a YA novel, nor will you find any cheesy romance that most YA fantasy books offer.

Women have no role in this society but to bear children and to please their men. Ama slowly learns that she must become this woman for Emory. Being completely innocent and oblivious, she accepts this rule. We slowly begin to realize the Prince Emory is not as heroic as he seems. He's just another man with a dangerously high ego that only feels manly when the women around him are weak. This man is literally obsessed with himself. Anyone can sense this from the very first chapter.

I must stress that there are very many trigger warnings that come with this book. Sexual assault is a constant theme, sometimes being very descriptive. Emotional and physical abuse are blatantly apparent. As well as suicide and animal cruelty. Many people will dislike this book for its cruel and descriptive usage of nasty words. But I applaud the author for being unapologetically and brutally honest. While this book explores the severe mistreatment of women during medieval-like times, Arnold makes obvious connections to sexism in today's society. I was angry throughout the entire novel. But my constant vexed feelings were worth the satisfying ending.

P.S. The ending is honestly really weird. (Like extremely weird).

P.S.S. I will never look at the word "yard" the same way ever again for the rest of my life.

P.S.S. This book has the lowest Goodreads rating of any book I have ever read in my entire life. Yet, I confidently believe it is worthy of a 5 star. This is why I do not trust Goodreads ratings.
Profile Image for Eva B..
1,323 reviews326 followers
January 26, 2021
This is a slow-burn of a book, and I loved it. It might be because it reminded me of a short story I wrote back in fall, but this is the type of dark fantasy I enjoy. I especially loved Ama and Sorrow/Fury (the scenes with her were very hard to read because she reminds me of my own cat), and I would fight Prince Emory without hesitation.
There were some lines and phrasing that I really disliked though, since they didn't really fit with the tone of the story. For example, "mother's juice" was used in reference to being in the womb, and the prince's "yard" is described as being like a turkey leg at one point. Also, the phrase "god's balls" reminded me of "I admire your balls, Feyre" so there's that.
(Although the subtle shade at Throne of Glass was very appreciated!)
Profile Image for Eli.
222 reviews98 followers
May 22, 2019
Even almost two months later I don't really know how to describe this book...
But I really admire Elana K. Arnold and I really think that books like hers are very important and can even change your perspectives somehow. I really wish I had read her books back when I was a teenager.
Profile Image for Ellie.
578 reviews2,200 followers
September 29, 2018
↠ 3.5 stars

I received a copy in exchange for a honest review.

This is going to be such a divisive book; looking down the ratings my friends have given it on Goodreads, there is such a variation between 4 stars and 2 stars. It is a dark, provocative and slightly terrible novel, but it doesn’t promise to be anything different. It is a book about the treatment of women in a world dominated by men, and it is depressing.

Before I go on, I want to state something: I don't believe this book can be easily classified as a YA book despite the fact that I feel like the marketing, cover, and a host of other factors seem to point towards the fact that it is. I would genuinely feel uncomfortable giving this to a 14 year old (which is the youngest end of the targeted demographic according to the proof copy). This book has explicit non-consensual sexual acts (described in detail) amongst other content that that could be potentially triggering for readers who are not expecting it. I feel, additionally, that people have problems with it because it “went too far” for a YA book, and that it’s darkness would be better viewed if it was framed as an adult read.

Now that this is stated, I can admit Damsel is a very carefully-crafted tongue-in-cheek book about gender and the treatment of women in a male-dominated world. It is based upon the idea of what happens after the “happily ever after” and is inspired by the original dark fairytales, the ones where the princesses didn’t come off all that well at the end (The Little Mermaid commits suicide; Sleeping Beauty is raped whilst asleep, and so forth.)

I would not go so far as to say Damsel is feminist; the heroine doesn’t really attempt to break from her patriarchal chains until the very end of the novel. She is pushed and manipulated into filling a womanly role, and often she does submit, as there is no other choice for her to make.

Sentence choice is painstakingly selected in this novel. The speech given to Emory (the prince, and later, king) is not, at first, shocking, but it becomes insidious and you slowly become aware that he is, in fact, an awful man and the villain of the story. The thing is, he is charming at times, too, which makes it even more complex, because readers find it harder to see him just as a plain old villain. His lines (such as “I rescued you from the dragon”, and “a women’s name should begin with an open sound”) slowly unnerve you with their masculine entitlement. The latter, about the open sound, is also subtly sexual in nature, like so many offhand comments that the male characters make.

Then there are lines such as “Please. She knew it would become her most popular word” (*I’ve paraphrased this, as I can’t find the actual line) which reinforces the submissive position of the heroine. Plus, there was the psychological manipulation performed by Emory which basically tricks Ama, the heroine, into being grateful to him and subjugating her further into a submissive role and into a position where she believes she should be thankful to men and their masculine brilliance and their natural role as saviour and protector and I just ??? Like damn, that really aggravated me the wrong way, which was obviously deliberate on the author’s part.

Another really clever thing was the use of wild animals as mirrors for the heroine’s predicament. There was Sorrow, Ama’s lynx, and then Isolde, the falconer’s hawk. Both are creatures whose natural wildness was culled by men to ensure their tameness, and in turn only if they are tame can they be “useful”. Sorrow, in the end, is let loose by the heroine as she knows the lynx could never be happy in a submissive role – the act is one that mirrors the heroine’s internal feelings, and setting up for her final decision.

There is a twist at the end of the novel, though if you’re paying attention, I think most readers will begin to guess (likely accurately) part of it before the end. The ending itself was left very open and most will view it as a positive end, I think. The book was well-paced at just over 300 pages, and I absolutely sped through it. I was also very fond of the author’s writing style; it had a subtle prettiness to it. Also this book had a lot of cats in it, and I liked that. Plus, glassblowing is an art I love but you never really see in books, so I enjoyed that too.

The one thing that made me die a little inside every time (and not in a good way), were the word choices for male genitalia. “Tusk” and “yard” were the most often used, and I swear I will never look at those words the same again. “Tusk” obviously is an intentional choice for the subliminal message of violent impalement that it brings, but damn.

Honestly, I admit I got a lot of pleasure out of this book just for the amount of layered material it provided to me as a reader. I could think over the intention behind the word choices and metaphors, and I openly admit that I enjoy books that provide layers of meaning and make me think about their creation. It brings me back to the days where I’d analyse sentences intensely in English, ha.

Some people say that The Little Mermaid-based The Surface Breaks by Louise O’ Neill has the same idea of a subjugative, patriachal society behind it, but it’s done much better. I can’t comment, as I haven’t read it, but when I read it I will be certain to compare the two. It also sounds like The Surface Breaks didn’t push as far as Damsel did (honestly I’ll keep everyone updated when I read) and was more faithful to the YA limitations, which may be one reason why more people liked it? Not many people like reading overly dark books, and the truth hurts. But the fact is, the patriarchal world in Damsel used to exist in our world (and still does, in some places), and you can’t hide the fact that women were treated abysmally, as nothing more than objects and vessels for childbirth.

TL;DR: This is a very dark book, and please only go into it if you feel mentally prepared. It is a provoking examination on a patriarchal society wherein women are lesser, with a fantasy, “fairytale” twist, and if you aware of what you’re going into and enjoy these kind of books, I would happily recommend it.

EDIT: the author herself has commented on the fact people believe this book isn’t “YA” in a post on her blog and her response is well-articulated and thoughtful. As a reviewer, it is also my job to make sure that readers (especially young readers) are aware of what they’re going into, and certainly when there are so many triggering subjects. But if they’re aware and happy to read it, then those YA readers are more than welcome to read.

this review is also available on my blog, faerieontheshelf.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Amy Risner.
192 reviews754 followers
October 1, 2018
ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Okay, this is going to be one of those books with very polarizing reviews. You’re either going to love it, hate it, or be in the middle (like me) where you like the writing and message, but you’re also shaking your head going, WTF?

Firstly, here are the trigger warnings: Sexual assault/rape, mental and physical abuse, harm to animals, suicide and self harm (it’s discussed), imprisonment.

Even though this is a dark fairy tale retelling I feel like it would benefit more if it were marketed as an adult book rather than YA. While dark subject matter doesn’t bother me, I do believe this book brings up ugly scenarios that may not be suitable for everyone.

Damsel opens like a typical fairy tale: a prince slays a dragon to save a damsel in distress. This is what is supposed to happen after the rescue; the “happily ever afters”. The prince will become king and he needs a queen. However, after Prince Emory brings Ama back to his kingdom, Ama is full of questions. But she doesn’t remember what happened to her before she was captured by the dragon. While Ama has no memory of her family or previous life, Emory assures her she’s safe now and she will be his queen.

This book explores some very heavy themes, one of which is women’s rights. It is mentioned several times that women are just vessels for child bearing; that they must do whatever the man says because it is a man’s world. And that a woman’s wants do not matter as long as the man is pleased. This type of abuse isn’t only directed at Ama but at the other female characters as well.

Later Ama’s happiness is stripped layer by layer through different forms of mental abuse. I won’t go into spoilery details, but there are some scenes that made me feel so much anger. And, yes, there are sexual abuse/rape scenes (one that goes into beastiality territory), which I had to sit the book down and say WHAT THE F*CK? Did I really just read that!?

And don’t get me started on the euphemisms the author uses for “penis”. Like, it’s cringe worthy. It is referred to as an “ivory tusk” and “yard” several times. I just… why? It was so awkward.

But despite that WTF-moments, I actually liked it? I appreciated the feminist message behind this book, which is so important and reflective of how women are still treated today. I totally felt for Ama and I loved watching her character grow. And the ending is hella satisfying (even though it wraps up way too fast). I loved Arnold’s writing and how she was able to invoke so many emotions from me. That’s the thing about books like these; they might be ugly and dark, but they sure as hell stick with me for a long time.

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Profile Image for Allison.
168 reviews128 followers
October 16, 2018
This was a very dark book, and went the opposite way that I expected altogether. The “twist” wasn’t even a twist, and the entire book is stuffed with so much disgusting content that it became repulsive. It is also very dark, and the supposed good ending is dark in its own way. The messages that are portrayed in this book are horrible, as the King’s mother simply tells the damsel that even if you’re suffering, it’s simply the way it’s always been. I won’t even bother talking about the king, as he is a horrifying excuse for a “evil” protagonist. There are so many trigger warnings present in the book, that make the book uncomfortable.

I don’t really want to rate this one, as the content wasn’t for me. The author explains many aspects of the book in great detail, but the bad aspects overcome anything good about the book.

The review is pretty short, but I hope that it provides a warning for those deciding whether they should read this or not.
Profile Image for Billie.
930 reviews79 followers
September 10, 2018
This is not the Prince-rescues-Princess-from-Dragon book you expect, but it may very well be the book that you—or someone you know—needs.

Embrace your Sorrow.

Free your Fury.

Be the Dragon.
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