Robin McKinley - Deerskin

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Epinions Product Rating: Very Good
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Dark, Frightening, and Not for Children!

Jun 20, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Evocative descriptions, a traditional fairy tale, brought up to modern speed.

Cons:Despite it being a fantasy tale, this one is not for children of any age.

The Bottom Line: Disturbing, vivid fairy tale, but should be read with caution.


This one was a fearsome read. I had heard whispers and rumors about it through the SF grapevine, and when I saw the cover art by Tom Canty, I figured it was worth picking up.

My friends, I have read this one once.

That should tell you something right there. The author, Robin McKinley, is one of my favorite writers in the genre of modern fairy tales. I read both of my paperback copies of Beauty until they fell apart, and I broke down and replaced it in hardbound. But this one...

It's an awful read. Not in the sense of bad, but in Awe-full. The plot is disturbing, dealing with the adult themes of incest, abuse and daughter-rape, and some of the plot holes are so obvious and apparent that you're wondering what was running through the author's mind as she was penning this.

Lissar, the only daughter of the king, is lovely and darkhaired, the image of her lovely mother, who dies soon after her portrait is finished and the painter goes cuckoo. As with most princesses, she is young, lovely and beloved by all; with her greyhound as a companion, she drifts through her days, suspecting that nothing is wrong, and that her life will pretty much go on much as it has.

She didn't count on her father. The king has become obsessed with his daughter, and when paternal love changes to lust, tragedy visits Lissar in one brutal night, and she flees with her injured pet into the wilderness.

In the wilderness, she's visited by the Moon Woman, who may or may not be a goddess, and lives in a symbolic womb, protected and silent, not interacting with anyone. Her hair has become white, and she thinks of herself as Deerskin, shedding her old life rather casually. There's the usual adventures, and she finally comes to a neighboring kingdom, where she is the kennel-girl for the Prince. When word comes that the King intends to marry, Lissar knows she has to act to prevent a further tragedy...

There's some romance here, but nothing on the level of a traditional story, and the rape of Lissar/Deerskin is so traumatic, that it colors the entire novel. But, taken as metaphor, this is very much the world of any child who has lived with abuse and molestation. Read on that level, the story takes on new meaning. It's not a light read at all, and the subject matter is simply too sensitive to be handed off to a pre-teen or teenager.

I applaude Ms Mckinley for tackling one of the toughest things around, but the novel is so unsettling, and without a clear sense of justice in the end, I don't recommend it at all for children.

Four stars for style, one for the topic, which leaves three. If you're a fan of McKinley's, by all means go ahead and read it, but with reservations. This is not a happy book.


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