Damsel by Elena K Arnold – ARC Review #5

This book was dark, twisted, gut-wrenching and should be opened with precaution. It’s not for the survivors, or for the people who aren’t emotionally prepared for it. Every page gets darker, every night longer. Every chapter had me more uncomfortable than the one before, and by half way through I could barely keep reading.

But I knew I had to, because I can handle it.

Not everyone can.

If sexual, physical or emotional abuse is a sensitive topic for you, do not pick up this book.

I repeat: DO NOT.

If you can’t turn the page after reading about animal mutilation, self harm and victim blaming, then this book isn’t for you.

Not at this time. Maybe not ever.

Although Elena K Arnold is right to tackle these issues and head-on, BECAUSE SOCIETY NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT THEM, I can not emphasise enough that I had no warning going into this book that there would be ANY of this. If I had been at a different place in my life, then it could have been the thing pushing me over the edge. Please be warned that despite its pretty cover, Damsel doesn’t just hold pretty words.

It holds heartbreaking ones.

It’s sold as a YA fantasy with dragons and beauty and the beast elements. But this took the step past the usual claims of ‘stockholm syndrome’ into a horrifyingly realistic book that incorporates everything wrong about this planet.

I’m feeling queasy just thinking about it. I definitely felt sick reading it.

Elena has deliberately and eloquently portrayed how some men can react to the sting of rejection. How they see us as a piece of meat. A play thing. Someone who should be nothing more than a mould for them to sculpt into whatever shape they consider perfection. How they can be smiling and delightful one second, until their grin turns sadistic and their eyes haunted. You are a target for them to shoot their arrow, but if they miss – they tantrum and bring the paper down with their fists and words.

Emory twists Ama into everything she isn’t. Everything she doesn’t want to be.

And I finished the book sobbing.

When I first started Damsel, I was of the opinion that Elena was trying too hard.

Every word felt forced, every sentence too lyrical.

It felt there was no raw material left to the book, and every paragraph had been layered with edits until nothing was recognisable anymore.

Then I got used to the waxing and waning of her writing style.

I fell in love with the ocean of her words.

Every word had a purpose, a place.

A perfect jigsaw constructed to break your heart and turn you into a screaming toddler.

I fell for the characters, and felt for them with every beat of my heart. I was frustrated at Ama for not standing up for herself enough. For not using her voice, but rather choosing to be a broken songbird in a gilded cage. Then I realised her strength was silent. Growing with every wrong doing until it couldn’t be contained in her rib cage anymore. Her control was lost and her heart hurt from what she had to do. She was a bubbling pot ready to explode. Her anguish was setting her on fire. Her fear of overstepping the line was burnt away. Ama was pushed too far.

Damsel highlights the issues with society in a way that is direct, chilling and completely devastating.

The topics are heavy, but the writing is not.

I balanced reading this book with exploring the YALC hall, and I’d finished it 3 days after receiving it. (Which, honestly, was a relief to my growing TBR pile. If I can read everything else that quickly, then I’ll be on top of everything again.)

I picked it up because of the cover, but I stayed for the pain it caused.

The realisation, the emphasis of the shadow cast over this world.

But there is starlight in the darkness, hope in the wreckage.

For every sunken ship holds a treasure chest, and every damsel has the heart of a dragon.

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