cbrbingo11 – Cannonballer says!
In the kingdom of Harding, heir to the throne Emory must go through the ritual every king has had to take on before being granted the crown: slay a dragon, rescue the damsel captive there, and make her your queen. Emory conquers this task as he conquers all of his conquests, and the young woman he takes back to his kingdom is like the ones who came before: no memory of her past or her time in the dragon’s lair, nameless, a vessel for the king to fill. Newly dubbed King Emory names her Ama, and Ama begins her time at the castle as the king’s betrothed.
But Ama is restless and has questions. She feels tied to her past, the past she can’t name, and the castle walls are no home to her. The King is not as gallant as he presented himself to be, and the Queen, who should be her ally as a previously saved damsel, is no help. Ama’s one saving grace is her pet Lynx, whom she named Sorrow, but as Ama continues to push back on being the person her King and the kingdom want her to be, even Sorrow is threatened. When she finds refuge in the glassblower’s workspace, she finds a release in the art and time away from her abusive fiance. But with the wedding fast approaching, will she find a way out?
So this is a dark one! <–understatement of the year. I’d list all the trigger warnings, but if you can think of it, it’s probably in here.
I love fairy tales and homages to them, and I especially love feminist retellings, so this went on my TBR immediately after reading the reviews, and even more so after Cannonballer Amanda’s lyrical review. I was also curious about it because it is a YA book, but Kirkus, my favorite review source, felt it “missed the mark” for teen audiences. They claimed this because of how graphic the sexual scenes are and because they felt the message is too sophisticated.
But the message of this novel is VERY clear, and its graphic, dark scenes are written as they are to support this message. This book is a feminist manifesto disguised as a fairy tale. You can check off all the different ways Ama gets manipulated and hurt by men: gaslighting, check! female pleasure disregarded, check! women sucked into the patriarchal system being useless as allies, check! men overblowing the grandeur of their dicks, check! etc. It plots the abuse of women through Ama and her relationships with men in the novel, and the book makes the strong choice to make no exception out of any man in the book. Even the glassblower, who you could call kind, takes advantage of Ama as he takes credit for the glasswork she creates. I like that choice – and I like how it’s made some people uncomfortable. It’s hard not to be uncomfortable with this book, especially with the graphic sexual abuse scenes and the treatment of Sorrow and other animals by the castle falconer and king. But Sorrow’s narrative is meant to parallel and foreshadow Ama’s, and if you portray abuse on the page, it better feel uncomfortable. So I think it all serves an important purpose even if it makes for a difficult reading.
And hoo boy that ending! I agree with many that it comes a bit too abruptly and it’s a little weird and leaves you spinning. But I didn’t hate it.
All in all, I liked this and I think it’s an important book. I’m not sure I can think of too many teens at my library that’d automatically hand it over to, though. It reminds me a little of Robin McKinley’s Deerskin, which I read as a much younger woman and found a little too much for me at the time. I think I’d take it in differently now.