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I know there is so much to talk about with Elana K. Arnold’s DAMSEL and its content. I will admit that I was a little standoffish considering the themes that I heard that this book contained. But I was remembering something an English professor told me once: "If it makes you uncomfortable as you read, then it’s teaching you something." DAMSEL isn't your normal "Prince saves the girl and slays the dragon and they live happily ever after." It's about main character Ama learning to use her voice and learning that she is a person rather than an object for King Emory's entertainment and pleasure. DAMSEL is a book that is extremely feminist in showing how one girl took it upon herself to forge her own destiny.

"Arnold's writing is beautiful....She didn't shy away from the harder descriptions of things as most authors would have, which made me appreciate DAMSEL that much more."

Arnold's writing is beautiful. It's a lyrical and full of imagery. The story comes alive right in front of your eyes. She didn't shy away from the harder descriptions of things as most authors would have, which made me appreciate DAMSEL that much more.

One thing I should mention about DAMSEL is that it is, hands down, an upper YA novel. I wouldn't give it to someone under the age of 16 unless I was fully confident that they could handle the content that appears in DAMSEL. From the start of the book we are given descriptions of Emory's previous conquests and the "slaying" of the dragon. After that there is a graphic description of a naked Emory as well as a description of his yard/tusk. (This is what Emory's penis is referred to as throughout the entirety of the book.) In the castle there is a chapter where Emory comes into Ama's room forces a kiss upon her and then engages in some sexual activity with her. He quickly blames the wine but tells her that she must expect this on their wedding night. There is another scene where they are in a carriage on the way to the palace that King Emory unlatches his belt, pulls himself out and uses her hand as a tool in self-pleasure. All without Ama's consent, but at this point we are well enough into the story that Ama knows what will happen if she fights back. At the very end we learn about how he truly slayed the Dragon by raping it.

From the beginning of the book I knew Emory was going to be a problem. Woman are nothing more than objects for him. In the first chapter he talks about his previous sexual conquests as he is scaling a mountain to save Ama. He is extremely possessive of Ama and is controlling in everything she does. He touches her as he pleases, threatens her and says belittling things. Emory believes that Ama has no other rights then to please him and give him a son once they are married. In slaying the Dragon, Emory slashes the crevice of its arm and then uses his "yard" to turn the Dragon (who is actually Ama) into the Damsel. 

Am I the only one who sees how much of today's society is reflected into the pages of DAMSEL? Let's take away the fairytale atmosphere (if one could call it that) and replace it with the modern world, is this anything different then we see now? Woman are continuously belittled, forced to commit sexual acts that they would prefer not to have to take part in, controlled in society by the way  they act, dress, and appear.

Throughout DAMSEL we watch Ama gain a sense of self wanting. She longs to break the hold that Emory has on her. She wants a life to do as she pleases where she won't be looked down upon. Ama takes her fate in her own hands when she takes up the art of glass blowing; the moment she creates the Dragon statue and uses its shattered wing to kill Emory she takes back her destiny. In the end Ama gets her true wish, freedom. She eats Emory's heart, returns to her Dragon form and is finally free from his constraints once more.

Can we please, as readers, acknowledge how feminist this book is? How important it is? DAMSEL is going to get so much hate based off its content. I've already seen it. This book is a quick read but not an easy read. It is dark and it has a lot of dark and horrible themes. I understand readers avoiding DAMSEL for the trigger warnings, as it is very triggering and I by no means am telling you to read it if it will make you too uncomfortable. What I am doing is suggesting that readers who have already crossed this book off their list merely because of its ratings and the dislike it has received to just give it a shot. Ama's story is one that deserves to be told. Just like every other woman who has no control over her destiny.

Reviewed by Amber Shepherd on October 16, 2018

by Elana K. Arnold