by Robin McKinley Book : Fiction
Review of Deerskin by Robin McKinley   (2009-10-19)
Princess Lissar is the daughter of the most beautiful woman in seven kingdoms. When her mother falls ill, she extracts a promise from the king that he will remarry again, but only to a woman who matches the queen in beauty. Lissar is mostly forgotten in the kingdom's mourning. However, a neighboring royal family sends their condolences and a puppy for Lissar. Ash, the fleethound puppy, is the only joy in Lissar's life, as she spends the next two years training her dog, learning herbalism, and avoiding her father. On her 17th birthday, when she becomes eligible to be married, Lissar's father decides that his daughter matches her mother's beauty and <i>he</i> will marry her. What follows is a brutal assault that leaves Lissar physically, mentally, and emotionally damaged. She flees the castle and is transformed by the moon goddess, becoming the mysterious Deerskin. As she tries to start a new life in the kingdom where Ash came from, she must grapple with her painful memories.
Deerskin is a retelling of Charles Perrault's story "Donkeyskin." I was introduced to a variation of this story through Jim Henson's The Storyteller, where it was called "Sapsorrow." This story is beautiful and heartbreaking. McKinley's language is very traditional, moving at a slow but steady pace, which builds up great amounts of tension in the first part of the book. The relationship between Ash and Lissar will appeal to any dog-person - I gave my dog a lot of squeezes while reading, though she's the farthest thing from a fleethound! I was very caught up in Lissar's transformation from forgotten princess to a strong, almost-mythical woman.
This isn't an easy read. I was drawn in by the characters and the language, and I had a pretty good-sized knot in my stomach during the first part of the book (and some of the second)! Lissar's healing process is difficult and worth reading, by those who enjoy retold fairy tales or those looking for a strong female character.
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