First, I must say what a horrible cover! I so would have passed over this book had I not previously known the story’s premise beforehand. I mostly picked it up because its premise reminded me of the story Sapsorrow from Jim Henson's Storyteller, a tale I very much loved when I was younger. And while some parts were indeed similar, this is certainly a much darker work. It reminds you of the fact that fairytales often tell sad, creepy stories—stories that don’t always have happy endings.
Some parts of Deerskin
are very difficult to read. I even had to put the book down and try to focus on something else to calm my nerves. But if you can manage to get past the gruesome, nightmarish descriptions of Lissar’s sufferings, you begin to see that the book is in fact rather well written. McKinley’s main focus is character development, as well as including a lot of interaction between the characters, which allows the reader to witness Lissar’s emotional progression from youth to womanhood and from fear to some sort of control and acceptance. I found this rather good and well done.
I also liked the fact that even though this is a fairytale fantasy, McKinley offers some natural moments in her storytelling. For instance, how many books can you honestly say include scenes where the main character needs the loo, or have descriptions of gagging odors and characters being tired, sweaty and dirty after taking care of newborn puppies? ;) I couldn’t help grinning as I came across these scenes in my reading, loving that honest and natural feel of the prose. A majority of books describe characters in the ideal, always looking their best and smelling beautiful: flowery, spicy... sometimes even earthy, like pine needles or grass—though when I do come across these particular "earthy" descriptions in books, I tend to find myself asking, "How is this a complementary remark?" ;)
I also liked that McKinley describes Prince Ossin as a rather plain, somewhat portly individual. Thought it made the friendship between Ossin and Lissar more poignant and beautiful.
As I had stated before, if you can get past those heartrending scenes of pain and suffering, this does make a very good read. And if those descriptions are in fact too hard for you to get through, I highly recommend trying Sapsorrow.