A friend of mine recommended Robin McKinley’s books to me when we came to the conclusion that we both read Fantasy, but neither of us knew of the other’s favourite authors. When I recently told her I was reading Deerskin, she was horrified, and told me that was not the book she would’ve recommended to me as an introduction to McKinley, because of the dark subject material. But I think it does just fine as an introduction.
Princess Lissla Lissar grows up in awe of her beautiful mother, like every other person in the kingdom. But when her mother dies, and the country and her father mourn, Lissar fades into the background, even more than she usually did. She’s left mostly to her own devices, and though she gains a companion in Ash, a puppy she received as a gift from a prince from a distant kingdom, human interaction isn’t really her strong suit. When she grows up to look just like her mother, she is confronted with her father’s madness and lust for her, and flees with her loyal fleet hound.
This book deals with a lot of dark subjects from the get go. There’s a neglected child, whose parents’ brilliance overshadows her entire existence. There’s a girl who is more comfortable with her dog than she is with most people. There’s the horror of finding out that her father lusts after her, and will not be deterred from marrying her. There’s abuse, animal cruelty, incest and rape. You can’t help but feel for Lissar. She goes from being ignored by most people, to suddenly having to be in the spotlights, to being desired by her own father.
When he breaks into her room, the room she’d locked herself and Ash in for safety, it’s a violent scene. It horrifies, and it sickens. And when it’s over, you just know it cannot be over. When she flees, and the trauma of what happened to her blanks her mind, I kept urging her to keep on moving, to keep running away from that terrible place and those terrible people. I was sick to my stomach that when her father declared he was going to marry in front of all his advisers, and she was clearly in distress, they somehow found a way to blame her. To turn it into a narrative that supported their ideas of what had happened, and change reality to fit their notion of the princess who didn’t want to share her father with anyone else.
Her flight, and her life afterwards, with the memories repressed but still having an effect, was so very interesting to read. To see her struggle with what happened to her even though she doesn’t remember, and doesn’t want to remember, and then to finally come to grips with it somehow…I just don’t have the words.
This book reeled me in and didn’t let me go until I’d finished the last page. I enjoyed the way it felt like one of those old fairy tales, story-wise but also when it comes to the writing style. It dealt with heavy issues in a realistic way, and yet there was still that magical feeling surrounding the story. Her way with dogs, her way of looking at life and how people came to see her. I’d recommend this book to anyone.