Themes of rape in fantasy usually don't sit well with me. Frankly, it's overused in most epic fantasy to harken us back to medieval days... as if we need that. Rarely, if ever, do I feel like it's dealt with with the proper gravity, and if it is, then I find the fantasy element hasn't been properly incorporated. Luckily, with Deerskin, I felt I was reading the best of both worlds, along with a generous helping of one of my favorite species, canines.
The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'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.'
As I can't remember when I first read this, I'm unsure what may have led me to have a relatively neutral impression of it the first time around. It really has everything I loved about The Hero and the Crown (except the heroine is battling inner demons more than physical monsters): the animals, the strong heroine who grows up somewhat 'other'-feeling, and the world itself (a world populated with dragons). Moreover, there were lots of puppies, even haltered ones, which I somehow forgot about after my first reading.
Lissla, or Deerskin as she is later known, reminds me a lot of a friend I had growing up, except more shy. A lot of times during the book, you just wish she would tell people what she's thinking, even though it makes her vulnerable, because keeping it locked in like she does clearly isn't the answer. However, when it comes to the ending, I really feel like it couldn't have been done better, which is unusual for me, especially considering it wasn't dragged out (how I usually like my endings).
My favorite quote:
But she remembered also that the Moonwoman had said, It is a much more straightforward thing to be a dog, and a dog's love, once given, is not reconsidered.~Deerskin by Robin McKinley, page 308
Deerskin is a fairy tale retelling that, while set in the fantasy world of The Hero and the Crown, appeals to me more now as a frequent reader of magical realism. Although certain parts of it were slower than others, I can't help but feel now that they only added to my like of the story, rather than took away from it. If you're looking for a unique fairy tale retelling that doesn't lack for dogs (at all), I would recommend Deerskin for your next read.
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a book I appreciated much more the second time I read it.
Content: Ages 18+ for incestuous sexual abuse, rape, and recovery.
Page Count: 309 pages in my paperback edition.
The Fairytale: According to the author, the inspiration for this story came from the fairytale Donkeyskin, part of Perrault's fairy tales. I haven't read that one yet, so I'll have to find it someday.