Damsel by Elana K. Arnold is a young adult fantasy novel that tells the story of a woman rescued from a dragon and brought to her future husband’s kingdom in preparations to be made queen. Arnold has written many books for both teens and young children, including A Boy Called Bat and What Girls Are Made Of.
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.
I loved the world of this story and the characters in it. It was so fascinating. It’s not often that I come across some truly villainous characters – and there were so many here! For so many different reasons! Prince Emory is the poster child of toxic masculinity and male dominance. Not only does he treat Ama as an object to be control, but also a female body for him to use sexually. But she’s not just treated this way by Emory. The Queen Mother also treats her this way, frequently calling her a “vessel to be filled,” first with seed (semen) then with a baby. Basically, Ama is told that all she’s meant to do is to be the vessel that will birth the next King – And isn’t that great! You should feel honored! You’re important, see! But not your opinions or your own personal desires! If you want to be completely infuriated, just read this book. Your blood-pressure will go through the roof!
The concept of this kingdom that repeats this same cycle of dragon slaying, princess rescuing, marriage, birth, then prince to go out and slay dragon is so weird and yet so interesting. It’s a brilliantly plotted fantasy world that feels so familiar yet so bizarre at the same time. There are little cliches here and there to remind you that this world is built on a foundation of fantasy books from before. The cliches don’t feel wrong here, though, because they serve the purpose of highlighting just the kind of toxic environment that has always lurked under the surface of stories like this. Damsel just takes these cliches and blows them up to epic proportions, contorts them into their wildest extremes to make a point: this is wrong. It’s not normal. Women are not objects and are not here to serve the purpose of continuing a cycle. We are not our reproductive organs, we are living, breathing creatures that have our own wants, desires, and dreams.
It’s really brilliant. I was enraptured by this story and I couldn’t put it down. Ama is a brilliant character – she stands in for the reader, a clean slate, learning everything as the reader learns it. She looks upon the world with new eyes, and yet she has a personality, she has dreams and even desires, something there that she’s only just coming to realize. The tantalizing facts of her backstory are drawn out little by little, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. We discover as Ama discovers, and I found I really enjoyed this particular approach.
So for me, the story itself is just awesome. I really felt that there were no elements that detracted in any way from it. It’s unique, it’s interesting, and it makes me feel Feelings!
Literary Value: 5/5
I’ve never read any of Arnold’s other works, but I definitely want to now! I felt that one of the reasons I was so drawn to this story was the writing. It was so well done! The atmosphere, the emotions felt by the characters, the plot, everything was so well crafted and felt real. I could very easily imagine this place, could see the characters as real people. I felt the story itself was drawing me in with every page.
Needless to say, I definitely want to read more of Arnold’s books, because if this book is any indication, she definitely knows how to tell a good story and back it up with amazing characterization, setting, and plot development. I don’t have anything negative to say about this book.
Entertainment Factor: 5/5
Needless to say, I was entertained to the max. From the very first page, I was instantly drawn into the story. It’s so weird, but even before I knew the reasons why, I absolutely detested certain characters and then later this feeling was backed up. I can only attribute this to Arnold’s writing. I cared deeply about Ama and I wanted to protect her from everything! I was also deeply engrossed in learning about her past, as much as she was, and so I had to keep reading because I needed to find out!
There wasn’t a single moment in this story where I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading. This was a true page-turner book for me, so I was definitely entertained to the max. Despite there being some really horrific moments that made me really angry and upset, I still couldn’t put the book down!
Cover Art: 4/5
At first, I was on the fence about this cover. I mean, I liked elements of it, the bright neon-like colors, the dark background. But there were aspects of it that weren’t appealing to me, like the weird looking flowers and the random heart and other bits, that I just didn’t understand. Not until I’d finished. Now, I totally get why the cover is the way that it is, why everything looks like it’s made out of glass. It’s really quite brilliant and fitting. I may not love it completely, but I do get why they made these artistic choices and since it fits with the book itself, I don’t have any problems with it. So yeah, pretty great cover!
Overall Rating: 4.75/5 Glass Dragons
This is such a good book! So good. I love how Arnold plays with expectations and norms in fantasy stories like this. Even when you see the cliches happening, and expect them, she takes things a step further or sweeps the ground out from under you, so you end up surprised after all.
I also really love that there’s a giant lens focused on objectifying women in this book. In so many parts of the book, Ama is reduced to either her physical beauty or her uterus in terms of her value or self-worth. It’s so sick, but this book challenges toxic masculinity in such a different way. There are subtleties and blatant call-outs in the book, but even still, the story itself is amazing and well written.
I would recommend this for sure, and to anyone who enjoys fantasy, but even to those who aren’t as fond of it, because the work that Arnold is doing here is really important. This story will stick with you well after the last page.
Thoughts & Thanks
Thank you so much for reading my review! I hope I’ve helped aid you in your decision to read this book. If you have read it or if you’re thinking about reading it, let me know what you thought in the comments! And as always, happy reading!