Written by Robin McKinley
An Ace Book, published 1993, by The Berkley Publishing Group
Princess Lissar is the daughter of The Most Beautiful Woman in Seven Kingdoms
and the king she chose from her seven suitors. Lissar grows up with no attention
from her parents as they are too absorbed by one another to pay her any
attention whatsoever. Her nurse tells her stories about her mother and about her
parent's courtship rather than read her stories from the books she has been
When Lissar is twelve, her mother dies from a mysterious wasting disease,
on her deathbed extracting from the king a promise that he will wed mo woman
less beautiful than she. The King is driven insane by his grief. His counsellors
take over the running of the kingdom. Lissar herself is, as usual, ignored
during the period of mourning, and no special place is given to her at the
funeral. The only person to think of her own loss is Prince Ossin, the heir to
the throne of a neighbouring kingdom. He sends her a fleethound puppy, which
he has bred himself, to be her companion.
This puppy, named Ash, becomes the princess's reason for living. Wishing to
be able to train the puppy herself, she demands her rooms be changed to to
ground floor so she will be able to take Ash in and out as necessary. In these
rooms, and away from her nurse who has been made prostrate with grief over the
death of the Queen, Lissar grows into her own personality. She meets, at her own
insistence, an aunt of one of her waiting women who is an herbalist and a scholar.
She trains Ash with ease, as the puppy genuinely loves her and wishes to please
Her life goes smoothly until the night of her seventeenth birthday, when a
ball is held in her honour. For the first time the court and her father take
notice of her. She is claimed early in the evening by her father who lets her
dance with almost no one else, in spite of the ball being held, at least in
part, as a way of beginning the choice of a husband for her.
She retires early from the ball, and washes herself many times before she can
The next morning she is summoned by her father who tells the entire
court that in three days Lissar is to marry. All are shocked and amazed by the
news, but when he tells them that it is he himself who is to be her bridegroom
the entire court is incensed. Lissar barricades herself in her room for the
three days, and of the evening of the third, her father bursts through the
garden wall, bashes her dog into a window frame, and beats and rapes Lissar -
partly for his lust, and partly as a punishment for locking herself away from
him. Three days of barricading, three violations.
Lissar is ready to die. The only thing that brings her back to herself is
Ash's tongue licking at her face. Lissar had believed Ash dead, but when she
realises she is alive, but hurt, she drew herself back to her pain filled body
and cared for her friend's wounds. Then the two of them escape.
Lissar and Ash journey through the land in secret, in the end coming to a
deserted hut and wintering there. After five months Lissar is brought back
into reality by a visit by a mysterious lady who heals the last of her and
Ash's wounds and gives the "the gift of time." When they awake, Ash's
smooth coat has become thick and long, and Lissar's hair has changed from
red-highlighted-black to pure white.
When winter ends Lissar and Ash journey again, in a direction away from the
city where they had lived, and Lissar takes with her no memory of who she has
been, nor of what has befallen her. She meets people again, and at last comes
to the city of the kingdom she has now entered. She is given work by the prince
- keeping his six orphaned puppies alive, a task all but he had given up any
hope of completing successfully. During the battle for the six baby fleethounds'
lives, the prince and Lissar become close friends.
The prince invites Lissar to the ball which is being held to honour an
irritating princess from another kingdom, and takes her to a room filled with
portraits of many different members of royal families, sent as calling cards
when the subjects were being advertised as marriage prospects. Lissar
recognises herself in one of these portraits and her memories come back to
her. Who she is, whence she fled, and why.
After the ball, the prince asks Lissar to marry him, and she flees back to
her hut in the mountains.
A sudden urge at the beginning of the following spring sends her back to the
prince's city just in time to avert a disastrous marriage for the princes
little sister, and to be discovered as herself...
Lissar's story is both fairytale and moral story. A young woman's dealing
with a terrible trauma, in what appear to me to be a fairly realistic manner.
Her temporary insanity, shown from within her own head for the most part, is
entirely believable, and her relationships seem genuine also. Deerskin is a
fairytale, not in that it is a book about faries - it isn't - but in that it is
a story of a Princess on her Hero's Journey.