Damsel by Elana K Arnold

by Elana K. Arnold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The rite has existed for as long as anyone can remember: when the prince-who-will-be-king comes of age, he must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been.

When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, however, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon, or what horrors she has faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome prince, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny to sit on the throne beside him. Ama comes with Emory back to the kingdom of Harding, hailed as the new princess, welcomed to the court.

However, as soon as her first night falls, she begins to realize that not all is as it seems, that there is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows–and that the greatest threats to her life may not be behind her, but here, in front of her. 

For the past couple of years I have really been enjoying fairytale retellings, so when the opportunity to review Damsel came up I jumped at the chance not really knowing what it would be about beyond Princes, Damsels and dragons.

Unusually I’m going to start my review by talking about the ending because I think it will be the part of this book that is most controversial and potentially disliked. For my part, I got to the end and said aloud to the empty room “WHAT.THE.HELL”. I’m not going to give any spoilers beyond saying that the secret behind Prince Emory’s slaying of the dragon is… graphic, disgusting and fairly shocking. It definitely hit me from left field, although thinking about the book as a whole I think you could argue that there’s a strong theme throughout that builds up to this ending.

As much as the ending wasn’t my favourite part of the book, it does add to the grim, gritty, dark tone of the story. I still dropped my rating of Damsel by a star because for me, it took the book in a direction I felt was unnecessary. I feel like the feminist tone of the book and the gradual rebellion of Ama was strong enough to make a fantastic story without needing the truly bizarre shock factor part of the ending.

Ending aside, I was hooked on this book from the first page. Arnold’s writing style lends itself fantastically to the fairytale genre and I thought the world building in this book was particularly strong- possibly because Ama is discovering the world at the same time the reader is.

This book will make you angry, sad, probably a little big disgusted in places but it will also give you some real feminist satisfaction. This is a truly grim fairytale, so if you’re looking for a romance, this is not it. It’s gritty, but also beautifully written. Just don’t blame me if you read it and hate the ending…

Thanks to Harper 360 for sending me a proof copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recived an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

I’ve followed Dawn O’Porter’s career for a while now, enjoying her social media presence and the documentaries she made several years ago on taboo topics such as mail order brides and polyamory. For this reason I was intrigued when I head the premise of this book, and thought that it couldn’t be more of a Dawn O’Porter topic to write about.

The shock value of this book, which was heavily picked up in the media and was all I’d really heard about before I sat down to read it, is that it follows Tara, a single mum in her mid-30s who is filmed (without her knowledge) masturbating on what she thinks is a deserted tube train late one Friday night. The book looks at how society reacts to such a bold display of feminine sexuality and how Tara’s life is effectively ruined because of a momentary lapse in judgement.

The book also follows two other women, who are in completely different situations but are equally facing judgement from society for not “following the herd” (which kind of explains the title of the book) or rather, not taking the traditional roles expected for women. Camilla is a rich blogger, happily single and adament she does not want children, whilst Stella is dealing with the loss of her Mother and identical twin sister to cancer and the knowledge that she has an 85% chance of contracting cancer in her lifetime unless she has her breasts and womb removed.

Once I started this book I found it very hard to put down. The three plots are each as gripping as each other and intertwine in a clever way. You do have to suspend your belief a bit as quite a bit of the action is somewhat far-fetched (I’m particularly thinking about the climax of Stella’s storyline here) but once you give yourself up to the madness it’s a bonkers and completely enjoyable thrill ride.

Dawn O’Porter can write women in a way not many people can. It’s clear she’s a people person in life and understands women of all kinds. She writes mothers and child-free women with equal believability and she really has a handle on the important issues facing women today. This book has an exciting fictional plot but underneath the craziness there’s a lot of truth which should give any reader a lot of food for thought.

Given the subject matter it’s not surprising that parts of this book are quite sexually explicit. I felt that this was approached in quite an empowering way for women. All of the sex in this book is on women’s terms, for the pleasure or benefit of the woman involved.

I couldn’t have asked for anything more in a piece of women’s fiction than I got in this book. It was a bit bonkers, really entertaining and thought-provoking.

The Cows is now available in paperback edition, click below to buy a copy.


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The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in return for an honest review

This is the most important, powerful YA book I’ve ever read. Never before have I read a book that so perfectly depicts the hipocrisy of our society which encourages women to be sexual and then unapologetically tries to destroy them if they dare to be proud of their sexuality and own it.

The Exact Opposite of Okay follows orphan and aspiring comic Izzy O’Neill as she becomes the centre of a national scandal after photos of her having sex with a politician’s son are maliciously spread across the internet.

Izzy is a fanstastic role model for young women. Strong, hilarious and confident in herself, she is the kind of girl I always wanted to be as a teenager. If I’d had this book when I was 18 I would have completely fallen in love with her and I really think she would have inspired me to react to certain situations in my own life with more tenacity and confidence.

In the same way Louise Rennison’s “Confessions of Georgia Nicolson” were the ultimate depiction of young teenage girls in their day (and it makes me feel about 100 to say that, because it was my day too!) Laura Steven has perfectly captured what it’s like to be a young woman today. The friendship between Izzy and Ajita reminded me of my own friendships when I was 18. When you’re a teenager and get to see your best mates every single day you develop a certain kind of closeness that you don’t often get the opportunity to develop in your adult friendships. Izzy and Ajita’s friendship reminded me of how much fun I had with my own best friends (and how we still revert back to our teenage selves whenever we’re together.)

It’s so refreshing to see a YA book not shy away from the topic of casual sex amongst teenagers and more importantly, it’s vital for teens to know about revenge porn and learn early that it is not ok for people to try to shame them. I can honestly see this book becoming a classic for teenage girls to read, in the same way reading Forever by Judy Blume is a right of passage.

I will be eagerly awaiting the sequel.

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