Damsel — Elana K. Arnold

September 24, 2018


TITLE: Damsel
AUTHOR: Elana K. Arnold
RELEASES: October 2nd, 2018; Balzer + Bray
GENRE: Fantasy

SYNOPSIS: 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.


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!




More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

      1. Thank you! I don’t blame you at all. <3 I honestly would never hold it against anyone for DNFing a book for triggers!! That's why everyone I've talked to about this book, I'm making sure I let them know how brutal it gets so they know what to expect.

    1. I read this one, but haven’t been able to come up with a review of it yet. You did such a good job with your review. xD I think my biggest qualm with it is that I felt lied to, because I definitely think this should be marketed as adult. If you’re a young adult, you can always read up into adult (and a lot do), but I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that anyone under 17 or 18 attempt to tackle the book, except in some extremely rare instances.
      That being said, I love dark fairy tales, and I thought Damsel really delivered in that aspect, too. It had a really delicious Brothers Grimm vibe to it that I loved! Also, it had about 500% more “yards” in it than I expected, so that happened. xD

      1. Aw, thank you so much, Sammie! Oh man, I totally feel you on feeling lied to by the marketing on this one. Books like this are why I really wish publishers would take New Adult more seriously, because I’d class this as that loooong before I’d call it YA!
        Yes, same same same, give me all the dark and twisty fairytales haha! And yeah, the “yard” thing was like my only complaint – what an awkward way of phrasing it. ?

        1. Ha, that’s exactly what I was thinking! I’ve actually been thinking that more and more, it seems like the YA I’m picking up feels more like it belongs in NA, but it’s getting pushed down into YA because nobody wants to publish NA. Part of that bugs me because I read YA partly to avoid those things that tend to be pervasive in adult fantasy, and now it feels like it’s everywhere in recent YA, too. xD
          I admit, though, I prefer yard to the original horn. xD

    1. Gah! I’ve heard such good things about this book! I hope to be able to get to it soon, especially after reading your praises 🙂

    1. Okay; you convinced me. Other reviews had me backing away from my ARC but right now I do feel like picking it up! [Although it definitely won’t be in time for its release but hey. :’) ]

    1. I just finished this one and I have to tell you, this one is so much darker than what I expected! I enjoyed it but at the same time, there were times that I had to stop reading or skipped the paragraphs because they were too triggering for me. Thank you for sharing and fantastic review, Destiny!

      1. I can totally see that, Tasya! I’m glad you enjoyed it and that you made sure to take care of yourself when you needed to. ♥ I also had a couple of moments where I had to stop and give myself a break. Plus, the scene where Sorrow goes missing? I was literally skim reading as fast as possible to see what happened to our poor little lynx kitten!
        Thank you so much! <3

    1. I added this to my tbr because of your review. It reminds me of Anne Rice’s Beauty series but more feminist. I can’t wait to read it.
      Great review!

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