Published: 1994 by Ace
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This review is for the Once Upon a Time V challenge.
I’ve been a fan of Robin McKinley since I was a teenager, and I’ve always liked her fairy tales retold. Deerskin is a retelling of Donkeyskin, a rather disturbing Charles Perrault fairy tale. The original fairy tale is about a princess whose father falls in love with her and attempts to force her to marry him–something which seems more fitting in ancient Greece than it does in 1600s France.
McKinley’s retelling features the Princess Lissar and her dog Ash. As a child, Lissar is mostly neglected by the King and Queen. When the Queen dies, she makes the King promise to remarry someone more beautiful than she was. Unfortunately, that person happened to be Lissar. When she refused in horror to consent to such a union, the King brutally raped her, leaving her barely alive. Lissar and Ash ran away into the mountains, where they struggle to survive. Lissar suffers a miscarriage that almost kills her.
By this point in the novel, my thoughts were “Please for the love of God give Lissar a break!” Thankfully, that’s where the fairy godmother moon goddess shows up, revealing that there will be a happy ending, and Lissar’s adventures continue. The fairy godmother gives Lissar time away from the memories of her trauma, a new appearance so she won’t be recognized, and a magical deerskin dress that never gets dirty. She travels to the yellow city where she meets Prince Ossin, who loves puppies.
I thought McKinley did a really good job with the somewhat traumatic scenes in the beginning of the novel. Rather than go into graphic detail, she leaves the exact details somewhat blurred and focuses instead on Lissar’s feelings. By doing this, she is able to convey the serious horror of the events.
Overall, somewhat dark for McKinley, but I did rather enjoy this book.