DAMSEL, by Evelyn Skye, Random House Worlds, April 18, 2023, Hardcover, $28 (young adult/ new adult/ adult fiction)
A young woman finds herself in a battle to the death with a dragon in Damsel, a new fantasy novel by Evelyn Skye.
A price must be paid.
Elodie never dreamed of a lavish palace or a handsome prince. As she grew up in the famine-stricken realm of Inophe, her deepest wish was to help her people survive each winter. So, when a representative from a rich, reclusive kingdom offers her family enough wealth to save Inophe in exchange for Elodie’s hand in marriage, she accepts without hesitation. Swept away to the glistening kingdom of Aurea, Elodie is quickly taken in by the beauty of the realm — and of her betrothed, Prince Henry.
But as Elodie undertakes the rituals to become an Aurean princess, doubts prick at her mind as cracks in the kingdom’s perfect veneer begin to show: A young woman who appears and vanishes from the castle tower. A parade of torches weaving through the mountains. Markings left behind in a mysterious V. Too late, she discovers that Aurea’s prosperity has been purchased at a heavy cost — each harvest season, the kingdom sacrifices its princesses to a hungry dragon. And Elodie is the next sacrifice.
This ancient arrangement has persisted for centuries, leading hundreds of women to their deaths. But the women who came before Elodie did not go quietly. Their blood pulses with power and memory, and their experiences hold the key to Elodie’s survival. Forced to fight for her life, this damsel must use her wits to defeat a dragon, uncover Aurea’s past, and save not only herself but the future of her new kingdom as well. —Synopsis provided by Random House Worlds
Based on a screenplay by Dan Mazeau, Damsel is a collaboration between New York Times bestselling author Evelyn Skye and the team behind the upcoming Netflix film Damsel (2024), starring Millie Bobby Brown.
I almost always like the book better than the movie, so it will be interesting to see how this collaboration pans out. I am, however, glad I got to read the book first, because I got to imagine things my own way.
Skye does a good job setting the tone. You immediately feel the desolation in Inophe and the hope that comes from seeing the lush lands of Aurea. There’s a lot of foretelling early on, and that feels like the result of adapting a screenplay. The book probably would have been more than 368 pages without those constraints.
That said, Skye manages to create a real sense of place, particularly in the caves where most of the action takes place. The oppressive claustrophobia, isolation and heat radiate off the page.
Elodie is a character you want to root for, and the inclusion of flashbacks to previous princesses helps fill in the historical blanks.
Damsel is a fast-paced, cinematic novel that reads a bit like a fractured fairy tale/ This fantasy should appeal to readers now, and a new group once the movie premieres.
Note: Damsel is not specifically written for young adults, but Elodie and her sister are the right ages to appeal to a YA audience. Content is on-par with a PG-13 rating with violence being the main reason.
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