ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
“For Emory to take his father’s place as king, he must do as his father had done, and his father before him. He must conquer a dragon and rescue a damsel, and take that maiden as his bride.”
I get what this book was trying to do, I really do, and I appreciate it, but I just don’t personally think it was well done. This is a play on the “damsel in the tower, guarded by a dragon, and a brave knight comes to save her” but I don’t even feel like that was very powerfully done either. This just reads really boring, really forced, and really overly graphic. And a few of my friends have five starred and really loved this one, and I obviously don’t want my personal feelings to invalidate anyone, especially those I love and especially abuse survivors.
But this is a really graphic and dark book, so content and trigger warnings so much animal abuse and death, sexual abuse, sexual assault, threats of rape, physical abuse, emotional abuse, humiliation, captivity, talk of past rape, self-harm, gaslighting, grey area cheating, misogynistic and sexist comments, and I don’t really know if I want to call this rape or bestiality: but a scene where a guy has sex with an opening that his sword made on a dragon. (I can’t believe I just typed that!) But I just wanted to put this all out there before I really start this review, because these topics are going to get brought up.
Basically, in this world, from this small kingdom, a prince always goes to slay a dragon once the king dies so that he can prove himself a worthy ruler and become the new king. Once the prince, or king in waiting, slays the beast, he will rescue the damsel in distress, bringing her back to his kingdom so that he can get crowned and they can get married. She will then produce him one, male heir and the cycle will repeat forever and ever. The dream, right? Wrong.
The book starts out with us seeing Emory approaching this tower, then slaying the dragon, and then rescuing the girl to take back with him. He names her Ama, since she has no memory or recollection of her past and promises her that she will have a life that others only dream of having.
“The damsels are a legacy of nothing—no memory, no past, no family. Accept your nothing, and pray it stays that way.”
But you will quickly find out that this book is a statement on abuse, and how the cycle continues and continues throughout relationship and throughout generations who go on thinking abusive actions are okay and justifiable. Ama has no choice in any of the actions she performs, and her only escape is her pet lynx, Sorrow, who Emory constantly threatens to kill and uses as leverage for Ama to do his bidding.
And Emory is awful; he sexually assaults her, physically abuses her, allows his friend to do the same, and completely controls every aspect of her life and happiness. And he expects her to thank him for it. Again, there are a lot of parallels to our world, and this entire book is more of a statement to that testament. Yet, this book isn’t fun to read. And I don’t mean that in the, “books about abuse are always hard to read!” because hard and not enjoyable are two very different things. Yes, this was a hard book to read at times, but it was also ungodly forced, heavy handed, and boring, too. Oh, and if I ever read the word “yard” referring to a person’s penis again, I am going to scream.
And the animal abuse in this was some of the worst I’ve ever read. That is a personal trigger for me, but something that I knew going in and believed I was in the right headspace for. Yet, it was very hard to read, especially because it continues to happen throughout. So, again, just, use caution, and I wanted to make note that this probably added to me not really enjoying the book even more so.
The one element I really did enjoy about this book is its minor discussion on gaslighting and sympathizing with your abuser. There were times that Emory was really sweet, kind, and giving to Ama and would make her question everything. There were times Emory was really convincing that the bad things that happened to Ama were her own fault. And there were times that you actually thought that maybe Emory wasn’t a complete piece of shit. Well, these are all tactics that abusers know and love, and I really did like how the author showed that in this story.
“I saved you,” Emory said.
And Ama believed him.”
Overall, I think you’re going to love this one or you’re just not. For as many friends that I have that have five starred this, I have even more that have DNFed it. This just reads so introductory and forced, to me personally. But I think both ends of the spectrum are very valid. And again, I’m sorry if this is one of your favorite reads of the year. But if you’re looking for feminist novels with a little more substance, that pack just as an emotional punch without feeling forced, I very much recommend: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Her Body and Other Parties, and The Power.
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.