Author: Elana K. Arnold
Genre: YA Fairytale Fantasy*
Release Date: October 2nd 2018 from Balzer+Bray
Format: Finished Review Copy
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
**I was sent this finished copy by the publicist Megan Beatie in exchange for a free and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**
Alright everyone, this book was literally Pandora’s Box. I read this in one day yesterday as of this book review and it was a lot to take in. This book has severely polarizing reviews on Goodreads due the content in this novel and I’m in the majority that has a lot to say about this book. I am going to go into some spoilers because the content needs to be discussed. This book is published and marketed as a YA original fairy tale, but I completely disagree. This book has dark, graphic and disturbing subject matter that should have made it an adult fantasy and not YA. I also want to say that if you have different opinions on this book, I respect your opinion. But this did disturb me and even made me a little angry for reasons not intended by the author.
Content Warnings: Graphic depictions of rape, abuse, minor animal abuse, threat of killing an animal, bestiality, some graphic language (profanity and describing human anatomy). No one under the age of 18 should attempt this due to the subject matter. Parents should be warned of this if they have teenage readers.
Writing Style: The one pro I can give to this book is the author’s gifted prose style. Elana K. Arnold does know to use words very well and some of her descriptions of colors, settings and overall prose is very well done. This book was written very well. I respect the author for her writing ability. Here’s a couple passages of how she writes that I did enjoy:
“Stay too long in this gray world, the legend went, and risk your eyes turning gray too. Risk your skin turning ashen. Risk your hair dulling to iron.” (pg. 1)
“Ama looked at the shards she had made. Each was a sliver of the thing she planned to create. She would need many, many more of them. After all, she was building a memory. Of what, she did not yet know.” (pg. 295)
Characters: The only characters you really get interactions with are Ama, Emory (the prince who rescues her), his friend Pawlin and Tillie (a house servant who helps Ama) and that’s about it. You are mostly focusing on Ama, and even though it’s not written in first person, you get all her thoughts and turmoil. She is the only person who has even a shred of development. All of the male characters are portrayed as horny, violent, abusive and not redeemable. I get it for this story about many of the guys being terrible, but it was too much for me. But honestly, Ama’s development doesn’t even happen until the last 20 pages which was very abrupt and rushed. It was too quick of a change for her to take control, when she’s too nervous to make a wrong decision throughout the whole book.
Plot/Pacing: For about 80% of the book, this was a whole lot of repetitive scenes, threat of violence after threat and a lot of filler. From the scene where Ama enters the kingdom to the last 15 pages, hardly anything happens worth mentioning right here. The pacing was so slow and not very well done for me. I skim read about 150+ pages and still got the gist of the story, which showed that this wasn’t a completely compelling read. You get NO answers until the last 15 pages and even then, not everything is answered about the origins of the legend, the big reveal (which I guessed in the beginning and I was right), why no one questions the legend, etc. I kept reading the pages, wondering when things were going to change and then when the very very end comes, it was over before I knew it.
Themes: The blurbs for this book calls this a “feminist” fantasy and honestly, I’m scratching my head at this praise. Ama does ask questions and wants to make decisions of her own for most of the book, which is great and I can see that part. But with the violent ending, which some people call satisfying, I don’t think this is really feminist. It’s just about a girl in a hard situation that wants to be free and that’s just what it was to me. There’s also themes of consent, violence towards women and the blunt commentary of our society and it’s way overdone. I don’t like that these over violent books about women in awful situations becoming so popular. Yes, society can be terrible at many times. But personal thoughts aside, I didn’t agree entirely with the “social commentary” and these dark themes makes everything one dimensional and not much substance.
**SPOILERS AHEAD! Graphic content is going to be discussed, so if you want to skip down the end, skip now*
NOW, HERE BE SPOILERS
Ok, I need to talk about the ending right now for this review. The ending reveals how Emory really fought the dragon and where Ama actually came from and this is where the major content warning comes in. To put it plainly, Emory stabs the dragon in its armpit (the weak point where there aren’t any scales), removes his sword and then…inserts his male part into the wound. Then, because of this, that’s how Ama goes from a dragon into a human woman. When I read this, I couldn’t believe that this: 1) the actual truth and 2) again, why is this YA? This moment of it practically being bestiality is disgusting and disturbing and it brought any enjoyment right out of my experience. I could not enjoy this moment at all in the book.
Then, in her moment of anger, she cuts Emory open, pulls out his heart, bites into it and then she turns back into a dragon and flies away? This ending was so confusing as to how this happened and why she turned back by this one action. This made me scratch my head and wonder why this was the right ending with no explanation.
But in all of this, I will say that the pet lynx that Ama does have as a pet (and the pet that is momentarily abused and threatened to be killed several times), she does survive. No pets actually die in this book, although there are tragic, brief descriptions of a couple dead dogs in the town streets and I had to pet my own dog a bit longer afterwards.
**END OF SPOILERS**
Final Thoughts: I knew about the polarizing reviews before reading this book, but I still wasn’t quite prepared for the content within the pages. This is a book that isn’t happy or has much hope. I do not recommend this to anyone under the age of 18 and I advise to read all the warnings in a few reviews before considering to read this if you’re a sensitive reader. I respect the author for addressing this trope, her gifted prose and a gorgeous cover. But I can’t enjoy a book with dark subject matter and the spoilers I mentioned deeply disturbed me.
Rating: 1/2 stars
**Thank you again to Megan Beatie for sending me this finished copy for review**
Have you read this book? What were your thoughts on it? Do you agree with my thoughts on the book?