Princess Lissar has grown up knowing only one thing: her mother, the queen, is the most beautiful woman in the world. So when the queen dies, Lissar is left with nothing; the only thing anchoring her to the world is Ash, a fleethound of the best breeding. It is through raising and training Ash that Lissar becomes her own person.
But this is not a fairytale. There is no fairy godmother, no knight in shining armor. Lissar’s father is enamored of his wife and driven insane by her death, and soon begins to look at his daughter with a gaze that terrifies her.
An unbelievable announcement and a horrifying encounter forces the young woman to flee, Ash at her side. Together the two wander the world in search of safety. Although Lissar is broken, she is also powerful — but can she look past her fear and trust herself and others?
In a word, spellbinding
Occasionally there comes along a book so painful and beautiful that the reader, upon closing the book, feels as if she has been holding her breathe since she opened it. Such is the case with Deerskin.
The writing is dense and mostly internal monologue, which can become boring if done poorly. But McKinley is a master, even managing to turn the non-speaking fleethounds into individual characters. Magic does not play as large a role in the story as I thought it would, but it’s clear from very early on that there is something magical about both Lissar and Ash.
What I loved most about the novel was Lissar herself, and her growth from a pale shadow to the strong, incredible woman she is meant to be. When another would have laid down and died, Lissar went forward, even when she didn’t know where she was going. What she experiences is horrible, and it takes all her strength (and Ash’s) to pull back from the brink and begin to heal.
Deerskin is about the best kind of character: the one who walks through fire and comes out whole on the other side. I’ll definitely be reading more of Robin McKinley’s stories.
Have you read Deerskin? What did you think? Which of McKinley’s books should I try next?