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Deerskin by Robin McKinley
Year: 1993
Pages: 384
Genre: Fantasy
Warnings: incest, rape, miscarriage

Summary: As Princess Lissla Lissar reaches womanhood, it is clear to all the kingdom that in her beauty she is the image of her dead mother, the queen. But this likeness forces her to flee from her father's lust and madness; and in the pain and horror of that flight she forgets who she is and what it is she flees from: forgets almost everything but the love and loyalty of her dog, Ash, who accompanies her. But a chance encounter on the road leads to a job in another king's kennels, where the prince finds himself falling in love with the new kennel maid . . . and one day he tells her of a princess named Lissla Lissar, who had a dog named Ash.

First of all, this is based on a fairy tale called "Donekyskin" and it is kinda fucked up. wth

Robin McKinley is one of those classic fantasy writers that I've been meaning to read for a long time now because whenever I hear about her, someone is singing her praises. Having read Deerskin, I can see that she's a talented writer. She's able to insert an incredible sense of dread and malice in the trauma that Lissla experiences and the aftermath is just as powerful. My favorite quote from the book was:

Her fingers crawled upwards and touched the outer curve of her breast, and the fingers paused, quaking in fear; but after the moment, despite the panic trying to break out of its shadows and seize her mind, she told her fingers, go on. This is my body. I reclaim my body for myself: for my use, for my understanding, for my kindness and care. Go on.

So I liked this process Lissla had to go through in order to recover from her ordeal, where someone took away the autonomy of her body and she learns to reclaim it. I think Robin McKinley is able to deftly handle topics as dark/sensitive as rape and incest. But once winter ends and she leaves the hut in the mountains, any interest I had in Deerskin begins to wane. While McKinley is a good writer, the pacing of her book moves slowly and most things that happen on the page are quite dull.

I think the crux of the problem is that Lissla is such a blank slate of a protagonist. Once the queen dies, Lissla begins to build a life for herself and it feels like the reader can finally get to know her besides as her identity as the forgotten child of her royal parents. But then the creepiness with her father happens and Lissla is stripped of the meager scrap of identity she was constructing for herself. Its like you start reading about an entirely new character which I know is a way McKinley captures the utter trauma of sexual assault suffered by the victim. But if I have to be honest, by the time Lissla leaves the mountains, I'm not sure if I care where she ends up down the road.

But the writing was good and McKinley was able to show off the darker elements of such a bizarre fairy tale. And, hey, she didn't kill the dog, so I'm willing to give her other books a read.

Rating: 2
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