Dealing with Dragons

Dealing with Dragons

And finally, here’s the last of my Secret Santa reviews. Sorry they ran over so much! Next time we’ll be back to the usual schedule.

Dealing with Dragons was written by Patricia C Wrede and has also been published under the title Dragonsbane. It was first released in 1990 and forms the first part of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, followed by Searching for Dragons (1991), Calling on Dragons (1993) and Talking to Dragons (1985).

As a Princess of the Realm, Cimorene has always been expected to act properly. Her life is defined by etiquette and strict rules, from how to greet foreign ambassadors to the correct way to scream if she gets kidnapped by a giant. Cimorene finds all of these things quite dull but whenever she tries to pursue her own interests – fencing, magic, cooking – her father quickly finds out and puts an end to it. Princesses are supposed to be proper.

When her parents announce that she is to be married to a neighbouring Prince, Cimorene knows that she must take matters into her own hands. She takes off in the night and heads straight to the mountain stronghold of the dragons. There, she gives herself over to Kazul, one of the most dangerous dragons. It is highly improper for a Princess to kidnap herself but luckily Kazul is impressed by her attitude and takes her on as a Dragon Princess.

Life as a Dragon Princess is difficult and often dangerous. Over her first few months living with Kazul she’s forced to deal with cooking for a dragon banquet and seeing off the countless knights who come to rescue her. When suspicious wizards begin hanging around the caves, Cimorene makes it her business to find out what they’re planning. If she doesn’t her new-found freedom and the lives of her dragon allies may be at stake!

Dealing with Dragons is a short and cheerful story that’s more than suitable for middle grade readers. Its tone is always upbeat, packed with humorous dialogue and presenting a charming adventure story about a girl who just didn’t want to be a princess. The novel has aged really well and is still relevant twenty-six years after its initial publication, even if its themes are now not as ground breaking as they may once have been.

The story is a light-hearted spoof of a typical faerie story. It’s set in a word where Princesses traditionally exist just to be rescued. Royal parents optimistically wait for their children to be cursed by wicked faerie godmothers and knights bide their time in rescuing kidnapped maidens (one particular knight doesn’t think it’s worth slaying a dragon unless it’s first bested at least forty-five of his fellows). Because these fantasy tropes are the norm for them, most of the characters in the story aren’t sure how to react to Cimorene. They’re so use to Princesses being simpering airheads that they’re not sure how to react to one that blatantly refuses rescue and studies magic.

The message of the story is quite clear as it paints a negative light on conformity. Throughout the story, Cimorene is criticised again and again for her inability to be “proper”. Knights assume that the dragons must have enchanted her and the dragons debate whether they’d be better off eating her than having the hassle of dealing with a tomboyish princess. Yet, Cimorene is never happy when she’s forced to conform. She gains happiness through being able to make her own life choices and manages to fool the wizards more than once because they assume that she must be an idiot if she’s a Princess.

The message of female empowerment spreads to other areas of the story. In dragon society, the females and males are all equal. It even implies that baby dragons are genderless until they decide which they’d rather be. Although their society is ruled by a King, this is really just a job title. The King can be a female dragon and the election process is based purely around physical prowess (the dragon who can carry an enchanted boulder furthest is deemed worthy). Similarly, there is also a role for a Queen but, again, it’s just a title and not one that anyone really wants because it’s just not as glamorous as being the King. This made for a nice contrast with the human world in the story. While the dragons still had their rules, at least they embraced equality in a way that Cimorene’s family did not.

However, while the story makes for a perfectly enjoyable light read, it doesn’t offer much by the way of depth. The world building is a knowing nod to typical high fantasy stories – princesses, castles, magical forests, dragons – and so doesn’t really offer anything new. Although Cimorene faces a number of obstacles in her daily routine, they are immediately resolved with little problem. While some of her trials are overcome by her wit (particularly the clever way that she manages to trick a murderous jinn, the main plot is essentially resolved through use of a deus ex machine and Cimorene has very little involvement in the final defeat of the wizard beyond notifying more powerful people as to what was going on.

I also felt that Cimorene could have done more to claim her independence. This is a purely personal gripe but it just didn’t feel as though it was much of a leap to go from being a Princess to a Dragon’s Princess. Essentially, Cimorene runs away to become a slave. As kind as Kazul is to her, it doesn’t change the fact that Cimorene is an unpaid employee who is not permitted to leave unescorted. While she has at least gone with Kazul of her own volition and is certainly living a more exciting life, it just didn’t feel that revolutionary. It’s like jumping out of one cage and into another.

The supporting characters in the story were also fairly shallow. I really liked Kazul and Morwen as both were independent female characters, more than able to take care of themselves and never spoken down to by the male characters. Yet, beyond this, there wasn’t really much to either of them. Most characters in the story just conformed to stereotypes. All of the Princesses were prissy and dreamed of nothing more than marrying a handsome Prince and all the Princes were similarly brainless, wanting nothing more than to rescue Princesses. While it made for an entertaining joke, it didn’t make them memorable at all. Beyond the main three female characters, I’m struggling to even recall any one else’s name.

However, books don’t need to be complex to be entertaining. Dealing with Dragons is definitely a novel that I’d recommend. It may be lacking in substance but it’s fun and cheerful and will certainly be loved by both fantasy-loving middle graders and the young at heart.

Dealing with Dragons can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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