We all know the story: the daring prince slays the dragon, rescues the damsel in distress, and returns home a savior and a king with a new queen to boot. Well . . . with Elana K. Arnold writing the story, that’s not exactly the way it ends at all. In fact, it’s only the beginning. It’s truly the feminist retelling we needed in our lives, and that’s exactly why we chose it for the Epic Reads Book Club cause there is a lot in this story to unpack and discuss (not in our Facebook Group? Join the discussion here!).
Damsel published to acclaim – it was a 2019 Printz Award Honor Book, and its heavy symbolism makes every scene both illuminating and sometimes, truly disturbing. This is a story full of unexpected twists and turns that’ll leave you saying, Wait, what did I just read?!? in the best possible way.
So, what’s the story about?
One day Ama wakes up in the arms of Prince Emory, after he has slain a dragon to save her, and she returns with him to his kingdom of Harding.
Ama has no memory of her life before the rescue, and, as he tells her, she has no one to miss her. No family, no people. The only person she has, he claims, is the prince. But as Ama discovers more and more dark secrets within the castle walls, her story gets more complicated.
How does it subvert a trope?
Damsel shows us one author’s interpretation of what happens after Happily Ever After turns out to be anything but. The book is written in the style of a fairy tale, though with each page turned we see just how far from that trope it truly is.
We love books that subvert a trope, and Damsel definitely delivers, flipping the rescued damsel in distress story completely on its head. Maybe Ama isn’t a damsel after all. Maybe she doesn’t need to be saved by a man, or anyone.
Why is it so important?
Damsel touches on various themes including emotional and sexual abuse, gaslighting, male privilege, suicide, and more. All of these themes are hugely important, but the ways in which they’re woven into the story are sometimes graphic, so it’s best to know this before diving into the story.
Ama is our central focus in the story, and her memory loss is a mystery to us, too. This is what makes the narrative so enjoyable, as we follow Ama and learn more about the horrors around her just as she does. We feel every eerie instinct, every something’s-not-quite-right-here inkling that eventually bares all its teeth. Ama’s story is but one in this ever-growing canon of subverting age-old tropes, proving that appearances can be very deceiving indeed, and that nothing is as it seems.
This book may seem dark, but the ending (no spoilers) is pretty flippin’ amazing and the overall message is that of awakening and empowerment, of believing and trusting in yourself before anyone else. And lest you forget:
What are your thoughts on Damsel? Was it the feminist retelling you needed?! What’s your favorite book that subverts a trope? Tell us everything in the comments!