Title: Dealing with Dragons
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Princess Cimorene hates being a princess. Everything she wants to do isn’t proper: fencing, Latin, cooking, juggling. So when her parents resolve to curb her impropriety with a marriage to a handsome (and not much else) prince, she’s finally had enough. On the advice of a frog, she sets off to places unknown, and eventually finds herself as the princess of the dragon Kazul. But the wizards are up to something, and Cimorene will need every resource she has to get to the bottom of things.
I always liked this book as a child, and recently revisited it via the audiobook from Listening Library (they do voices for the characters! It’s a very good audiobook). In an era where fairy tale tropes are increasingly being used and subverted, this book still stands head and shoulders above the rest (much like our too-tall Princess Cimorene). Cimorene is a very typical fantasy princess in a very typical fantasy kingdom, only without any unfortunate curses as baggage. But she’s got no ability to live life the way she wants to, and since what’s expected of her drives her mad, she eventually leaves it all behind.
I love the humor. From little digs at how fairy tales usually go (one of Cimorene’s etiquette lessons is how loudly she can scream when carried off by a giant, and at what times) to the natural humor as various strong-willed characters bounce off each other (Cimorene meeting the other princesses, for one), there’s always something to spark a laugh.
With all the parody, the plot could easily fall into the trap of just looking for the next trope to skewer. But there’s a more serious side as well, and I like how multiple characters investigate and ultimately uncover the wizards’ objectives. It actually adds to the humor in a lot of ways—just when Cimorene is at a vital juncture, another zany thing happens, and it’s easy to sympathize with her frustration.
And I really like the characters. Cimorene is strong and capable, but not all-powerful. She took fencing lessons, but aptly points out that it’s been four years since she was last allowed to practice, so her skills aren’t exactly sharp (and the one sword fight she’s in she won more thanks to the enchanted sword). The witch Morwen is a grouchy old woman who keeps a clean house and a lot of cats (and not a black one in the lot). Kazul advises and guides and is as much a friend as the master of the house, but it’s never in doubt that Kazul, not Cimorene, is the one in charge (forget all the books where the puny little human somehow gets the upper hand with the dragons: Cimorene thinks a LOT about being burnt or eaten by worked-up dragons). And I could go on.
All in all, a fantastic book that is great for a laugh and still holds a good plot. The years haven’t dulled my enjoyment of this at all. I rate this book Highly Recommended.