Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles) Paperback – 29 Apr 1999
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Determined not to be pushed into marrying a boring and proper prince, Princess Cimerone flees her kingdom and becomes an assistant to the dragon Kazul.
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Dealing with Dragons is a short and cheerful children's story that I'd definitely recommend for younger readers. The story is upbeat and packed with humorous dialogue, presenting a lovely adventure story about a girl who just didn't want to be a princess. The story has aged very well and is still relevant twenty-six years after its initial publication, even if it is now not as groundbreaking as it once may have been.
The novel was brimming with charm and took a number of cute digs at traditional children's faerie stories. Characters were so set in their fantasy roles that they didn't really know how to react to Cimorene - the princess who turned her back on the tropes and refused to do things just because they were deemed "proper".
While the story is perfectly enjoyable for a light read, it doesn't really offer much by the way of depth. The world building is a knowing nod to typical high fantasy, character motivation is pretty shallow and problems are resolved swiftly through luck rather than skill. I also felt at times that Cimorene could have done more to claim her independence than give up being a princess to become a "dragon's princess".
However, books don't need to be complex to be entertaining and this is definitely one that I'd recommend to fantasy-loving middle graders (and the young at heart).
Princess Cimorene refuses to be proper, is bored being holed up in the castle, and is most definitely not going to marry the boob her parents have selected to be her husband. So, she counsels with a rather bored enchanted frog, escapes the confines of the castle, and immediately falls into the clutches of the neighborhood dragons. Luckily, Kazul, a mighty dragon, takes a liking to Cimorene and makes her his princess. (Any dragon of any importance has his or her own princess.)
So far, so good. But here's the best part. Cimorene, while bored and headstrong, is an engaging and sympathetic character, so we don't have to go through the tedious process of humanizing her. Kazul is a deadpan hoot, and has an appealing personality that matches Cimorene's quite nicely. The conversations between the two of them are not only funny, but interesting. When you add in a bunch of smart-mouth dragons, a no-nonsense witch, dim-bulb rescuer princes, and sneaky wizards, well, that's a nice mix.
Usually that's all you get and the book runs to a logical conclusion in which something good happens to the princess and we all live happily ever after. But here, once the characters are in place, there's a plot. A new dragon King has to be chosen, there is palace intrigue and skullduggery, there is a mystery, and there's action and adventure. Cimorene and Kazul, and a few other characters, end up solving a mystery with action and brains. Didn't see that coming.
So, it's funny and engaging, but it has some heft and a story that's more than just an amusing premise. This is book one of a series, (Cimorene and Kazul will team up again), and I can easily see a kid reader getting hooked on this feisty heroine.
But what if a princess ran away from home... to be housekeeper to a dragon?
That's the concept of "Dealing With Dragons," a clever little fantasy that tells its own quirky story while cleverly lampooning the tropes of high fantasy and fairy tales. A lot of the charm comes from Patricia Wrede's humorous dialogue ("Oh bother!") and the cliche-busting character of Cimorene, who just wants to be free to pursue her love of unprincessy things like cooking and magic.
Princess Cimorene is rather put out when she's told that she cannot use swords, Latin conjugation, spoons or magic... because she's a princess. When her parents decide they're going to marry her off to the son of Sathem-by-the-Mountains, she takes the advice of a magic frog and runs away... to become the housekeeper and personal princess of a dragon, Kazul.
This lifestyle suits Cimorene much better than her "proper" princess life, despite the princes and knights who keep trying to rescue her. But she soon discovers that the dragons are in danger from the wizards -- and before long, they have poisoned the King of the Dragons. And if Cimorene doesn't thwart the wizards' plot, dragon society might be turned upside down.
One of the best things about "The Enchanted Forest Chronicles" is that it is a pretty decent high fantasy story. In addition to the whole fun story about a princess trying to escape her stuffy princessy life, there's some entertaining dragon politics, magical strife, and melting wizards. None of it takes itself too seriously, but there is an actual plot here to be appreciated on its own.
But while telling its own story, it's gently poking fun at the sort of things you find in these sorts of stories and how they're typically used (Cimorene tries to avoid a marriage by declaring "he hasn't rescued me from a giant or an ogre or freed me from a magic spell"). And Wrede's writing matches this plot nicely -- quirky and clever, with a slightly British flavour, and plenty of humorous dialogue ("If they'd simply done what they were told, they wouldn't be here." "Still, turning them into slabs of stone forever seems a little extreme").
Since the Rebellious Princess is pretty standard now, it's fun to see one that doesn't whine much, even if she likes all sorts of things that aren't princessy (magic, fencing, cooking cherries jubilee). So her sensible approach to getting her own freedom is quite delightful, especially since it shows that she doesn't need a man. Which, of course, doesn't stop various men -- including her unwanted suitor Therandil -- from coming to rescue her against her will.
And her sensible, no-nonsense approach to everything is really quite charming, whether she's trying to reason with a homicidal jinn or doing Kazul's dishes. Kazul herself is a fun dragon character, being very reasonable and sensible in her own right, and Wrede presents a number of charming characters like Morwen, a witch with cats and a sign that says "NONE OF THIS NONSENSE, PLEASE."
Patricia C. Wrede brings and humour to the old princess/dragon dynamic in "Dealing With Dragons," even as she pokes fun at all the old fairy tale tropes. An enchanting start to an enchanting series.