Title: Deerskin
Author: Robin McKinley
Pages: 309
Pub Date: 1993
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy tale retelling

"Even after she recalled the evening before she felt confused; the ball was over with, the new morning wanted to tell her. She had disliked the night before very much, but...her thoughts tailed away, and morning became and evanescent thing, with no comfort to give. It wasn't over with. Last night, the ball, had been a beginning, not an ending." (62)

This is a very dark, slumbering fairy tale which is loosely based from Perrault's Donkeyskin. I found myself taking my time following the princess in her captive world and in my notes I wrote that it felt as though my mind was slipping into a warm bubble bath every time I opened the book.

Our heroine, Lissar, is born to the most handsome and loved King and Queen of the countryside. All of their people are awe-struck with the beauty of the Queen and the desire that the King has for her. It is quite clear that they are the sun in the kingdom's orbit. And then, the Queen grows sick and dies. Lissar is barely noticed through the mourning period, with the exception of a young prince far away who offers up one of his most magnificent dogs from his new litter. The King falls into a bitter depression leaving Lissar to grow into a near-woman with her pup, Ash by herself.

Then, the most unthinkable occurs. The King comes out of his depression and decides that he is to marry his grown daughter. Lissar and Ash escape his clutches, but barely. She embarks on a magical journey, forgetting her past and taking on a new identity.

Lissar and Ash end up another kingdom where she becomes the mistress of the prince's newborn pups. Slowly her memory comes back to her and she is forced to deal with the consequences of her decision and reconcile that she has fallen in love.

What I noticed McKinley does a superb job in is fully throwing the audience into the story. We don't even find out Lissar's name until about 30 pages into the tale, right about the time that the King begins to notice her. Feeling alienated from the princess (because she is this unnamed character) put in perspective how Lissar must have felt in the kingdom. Plus, there is a constant shadow following the story; Lissar is always on the brink of remembering but it just hangs heavily on the sidelines. Almost like it was a dirty secret I shared with the author as Lissar tried to heal emotionally and physically.

There's not a lot of action or a lot of dialogue but so much happens and so much is felt. I think that's what I found the most interesting. For the majority of the time Lissar is just with Ash and it's their relationship. But you know, Ash doesn't talk or anything, so a lot of it is in the detail of the movements that Lissar and Ash share. It was exquisite and something that I would not have expected to enjoy as much as I did.

Oh and I love this quote:

"She did not mean to tell him this, that she did not remember what her life had been, but at four o'clock in the morning, when the world is full of magic, things may be safely said that may not be uttered at any other time, so long as the person who listens believes in the same kind of magic as the person who speaks." (189)
Doesn't that just give you shivers? Doesn't that just sum up all of our own experiences of sitting on the phone or at a 24 hour restaurant drinking coffee or in our apartment or WHEREVER when we bare our soul because the world seems magical and everything seems possible. That is what this tale is about.

Deerskin is magnificent. I wanted more. And I think you will too if you pick it up.


  1. Sounds like a great read, and I've been looking for some good fantasy novels. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. I have been meaning to read something by Kinley for ages. This does sound really good and not one I have heard about before. Thanks for sharing.

  3. This sounds like an unusual read ... and is quite lovely. I don't think I recall ever reading this particular fairy tale. Lovely review.

  4. This is a powerful book indeed. I loved it for the most part, though the White Lady's intervention bothered me some as it seemed a bit of a cop-out.

  5. Deerskin is my absolute favorite novel of all time. Great review!


Talk to me!