Monday, January 5, 2009

Dealing with Dragons

Title: Dealing with Dragons
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1990
Series: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Book 1)
Next in Series: Searching for Dragons

Cimorene is not your average princess. She doesn’t like dancing, embroidery or etiquette, so she takes fencing, magic, Latin and cooking to make up for it (even though princesses don’t cook, conjugate Latin verbs or play with swords). Fed up with their daughter doing improper things, Cimorene’s parents arrange a marriage for her. Aghast at the prince they’ve chosen Cimorene runs away to be a dragon’s princess (which is sort of like being the maid). Now she must cope with a poorly provisioned kitchen, wizards, witches, stone princes, a jinn, knights and (of course) dragons. Life certainly picked up pace.

Ms. Wrede does an immaculate job of setting the stage for Dealing with Dragons. Even kingdoms where you don’t spend much time feel familiar: “Linderwall was a large kingdom just east of the Mountains of Morning where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable. The climate was unremarkable. The knights kept their armor brightly polished, mainly for show – it had been centuries since a dragon had come east…all in all, Linderwall was a prosperous and pleasant place.” It could be almost anywhere, and seems about as normal as can be. But when you move east from Linderwall, things change. Mostly because when there are dragons involved, nothing is ever easy.

Cimorene is the antithesis of most princesses in fairy tales. She’s not weak, she’s not helpless, she’s not a blond and she does NOT need to be rescued. She is incredibly witty and strong willed. Nothing seems to faze her, and ain’t nothing gonna slow her down. In one word, she is indefatigable. In a country as normal and commonplace as Linderwall, that makes her the black sheep and she never quite fits in. Besides, in a world where everything is right and proper, a person whose very personality sets others on their ears will always feel out of place.

The story, like its heroine, moves along at a smart clip where one chance encounter with a talking frog changes the fate of a numerous kingdoms. Cimorene takes the frog’s advice and flees from her arranged marriage and winds up (rather unexpectedly) in the Mountains of Morning where she is taken in by Kazul, a rather prominent dragon who likes cherries jubilee. The odd thing is, even though they are so far outside the reader’s realm of expertise, the Mountains of Morning and their inhabitants seem like they could be your neighbors. For example, Roxim may be a dragon but he sneezes a lot and is rather forgetful, sort of like the old man around the corner who’s lived there forever. It may take a lot to make a twenty foot long reptile seem loveable, yet somehow Roxim is exactly that. And maybe the Mountains of Morning grew up on their ears, because Cimorene fits right in. It’s a good thing that she does, too, once the Society of Wizards start their meddling.

But beware! Nothing small or unimportant happens in the world of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Make sure you’re paying attention, because every little detail counts (with the possible exception of the cauldron of plenty’s inability to make any dessert that isn’t burnt mint custard or sour-cream-and-onion ice cream).

The one problem with this book is that it relies so heavily on chance. Cimorene happens to run into that certain wizard in that particular herb patch. Kazul happens to know someone who has a copy of an extremely rare book. Cimorene happens to pick up a pebble in that particular cave. But really, life is based off of chance, right? So it shouldn’t be too surprising that it is used in books. And it doesn't stop the book from being amazingly funny.

This book is told in third person limited.

My Thoughts:
I’ve always enjoyed books that play off of other fairy tales, and this one was my first introduction to that genre. Ms. Wrede skillfully weaves in every tale from Rumpelstiltskin to the Wizard of Oz and gives us just a little twist that makes it so much more delightful. Plus, the idea of a heroine rebelling and doing something interesting for a change (ahem, not embroidery, ahem) really appealed to me when I was ten. Years later, it still does.

Favorite Scene:
I quite enjoyed Cimorene yelling at Morwen, whom she thought was another knight trying to rescue her (and thus interrupting her work).

Who this book is best for:
I recommend this book for young women in or near middle school.

Violence: 0 out of 5. The most violent thing in the whole book is when the Stone Prince gets bit by Woraug. It chips his shirt sleeve.

Stars: 4 out of 5

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