Book Review: Damsel by Evelyn Skye
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Random House Worlds (April 18, 2023)
Length: 368 pages
Author Information: Website | Twitter
I loved Evelyn Skye’s Damsel, a collaboration with the writing team behind the screenplay of the upcoming Netflix film of the same name. But as most projects like these are often nebulous about their target audience, your enjoyment will likely depend on whether it’s the right book for you.
First of all, its premise is one that draws inspiration from a timeworn and familiar fantasy trope: a princess, our damsel in distress, is taken by a dragon. Cue the charming prince at this point, who rides off on his shining steed on a heroic journey to rescue her. But Damsel takes things in a different direction. What if the prince was the one who created this mess in the first place, leaving it up to the princess to fight for her own survival?
Elodie is the oldest daughter of an impoverished duke from the struggling realm of Inophe. So when a marriage proposal from the elusive kingdom of Aurea arrives, the family believes it will be the solution to all their problems. Henry, the Aurean prince, has been searching far and wide for a bride, and if Elodie agrees to the marriage, Inophe would be showered with wealth and lavish gifts. Determined to help her people, Elodie accepts right away, quickly establishing a correspondence with Henry to find out with pleasant surprise that he is a sweet and devoted fiancé. A veritable Prince Charming.
Sailing to Aurea, Elodie is met with glittering riches upon arrival. She is showered with attention in the days up to the wedding, and when the big day comes, it is as perfect and magical as she had imagined. But then, on her very first day as princess, Henry and his royal parents request that she partake in a strange ritual that has been an Aurean tradition for almost a thousand years. With horror, Elodie learns that Aurea’s prosperity had been bought at a steep price. Every year, the kingdom sacrifices its princesses to a dragon who in turn uses powerful magic to keep the land fruitful and safe. Thousands of women before her had been deceived as she had, brought here to be fed to a hungry dragon. Some had fought and managed to delay the end, but ultimately all had perished. While Elodie’s chances of survival look just as grim, her will to fight is strong and she will do anything to make it out of the dragon’s lair alive.
Thing is, Elodie is no intrepid heroine. She’s just a girl who has been duped, which makes her angry, yes, but at the end of the day she’s just as scared as anyone when suddenly faced with a terrifying monster that wants to eat her. She barely manages to survive her first two days and only by the skin of her teeth, and most of it was only due to sheer dumb luck. Not sure what the film will be like, but the Elodie in this book isn’t a kickass smart-alecky heroine with a solution for every problem. She’s burned, she bleeds, and she suffers. She is the princess who decides to save herself not because of some underlying ego-driven agenda but because the only other alternative is to lay down and die.
Damsel also feels YA sometimes, even if it isn’t clearly marketed that way. Since all my experiences with the author have been with her young adult novels in the past, I personally wasn’t too surprised or bothered, but for someone not expecting that, I can see how they might find some of the YA-ness a bit jarring. Also keep in mind since the story relies on riffing off classic fairytale and fantasy tropes, that might also skew things younger.
Regardless, I had a great time with this novel. The pacing was slower at the beginning due to the initial set up, but once Elodie was literally thrown into the dragon’s den, it was a heart-racing gallop to the finish. There is also an interesting magic system in play here involving residual blood and memories, and I enjoyed the periodic glimpses into the past through the eyes of previously sacrificed princesses, which gradually give way to answers about the origins of this macabre practice. My only one criticism has to do with the inclusion of the dragon language—a neat idea, but in the grand scheme of things, kind of unnecessary. I later found out in the author’s note at the end of the book that it was invented by Skye’s 13-year-old daughter, which is super sweet and awesome, but not gonna lie, the haphazard tossing around of made-up words was very distracting.
Ultimately, Damsel will not be every reader’s cup of tea, but if you think you might be the target audience to enjoy this, I encourage you to check it out. I read the novel with the expectation that it would be a fairytale-inspired YA and wasn’t disappointed. Before this, the upcoming movie was merely on the edges of my attention but now I’m really looking forward to it.
Well, color me intrigued! Despite the YA vibes, which usually don’t agree with me, the story sounds interesting and worthy of a peek or two 😉
Thanks for sharing!
I loved the YA vibes in this one, probably because I expected them! But yeah, as long as you are prepared, it’s great fun!
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OMG I love the sound of this! How you portray her is irresistible to me and refreshing compared to all the badass heroines (that I love too).
Oh, Elodie had her moments, but yep, for most of the book she’s just a scared, confused and desperate girl trying use her smarts to survive a dragon! I’m glad to put this on your radar!
I mean, if one of your daughters invented a language, wouldn’t you include them in your work? Even if it was a bit distracting and nonsensical 😉
I know I would be super proud and would be very tempted, but in the end I’d like to think I’d be clear-headed enough to do what’s best for the book, lol!
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Talk about parental ego right there.
Haha, speaking as a parent, I can’t really blame her. In her shoes, I’d probably want to show off my kid’s invented language to the world too. Granted, I would have made it a facebook post and not actually try to shoehorn it into my book,,
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I’m not sure if I’ll check out the book but I’d be curious to see the movie. The 1981 Dragonslayer movie is still one of my favorites, and despite all the amazing CGI we now have, the dragon from that movie remains my favorite from cinema.
Hmm, now you’ve got me thinking who my favorite movie dragon would be…first that comes to mind is Dragonheart, actually, lol!
Ohhh nice! I admit to being intrigued with this one as soon as I heard about it! I love a good fairy tale-esque story and this sounds like that but shakes a few things up too! Glad to hear it was mostly enjoyable! Great review!
Yes, I love that the novel’s bones were inspired by the foundations of fairy tales!
This sounds like a fun idea, although the YA aspects would probably keep me from reading this.
I think they were trying for crossover appeal, but based on the general vibe I’m getting from the movie, I can understand why it would feel YA.
Wow, I can’t recall seeing or hearing about this (although I have been living the life of a recluse for a few months so there is that) and it sounds right up my street. I’m not sure about the YA feel but the fairytale elements would probably win me over.
Don’t feel bad, I only learned about the book shortly after before it came out, and it was how I also learned about the movie, which I had no idea about even though the girl from Stranger Things is in it!
I love the twist here, and to be honest the sacrificing a princess for propserity of the realm thing reminds me of the Dragonslayer movie from Disney (which I love).
Todd also mentioned the comparison, I bet that was a huge part of the inspiration!
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I might just watch the movie then 😀
I’m definitely watching it, I hope we get more news soon.
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