Title: Dealing with Dragons
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Nutshell: Cimorene lives in a very classic kingdom. She and her sisters drink tea, wear lovely dresses, and learn ladylike arts and etiquette — how loudly it is appropriate to scream when being carried off by an ogre, for example, as opposed to a giant. Their father knows that eventually they will all be rescued from monsters or curses by gallant knights and be happily married. Well, perhaps not Cimorene.
Cimorene would rather scream battlecries. Cimorene would rather ply a sword than a needle. Cimorene would rather wear armor. Tea is alright, though. Her parents are nearly despairing of her ever being rescued properly. They try to explain to their daughter how things are. Princesses simply must be captured, by giants or sea monsters or dragons.
So, Cimorene packs a bag and visits the dragons. Once she has convinced one to let her stay in exchange for cooking for parties and organizing the back storage caves, she settles in happily. Knights come by every week or so, which is a nuisance, but she sends them down the cliff to try rescuing the next princess over. Dragons do take a lot of feeding, especially at parties, but Cimorene does have a Cauldron of Plenty to help her with the task. And she’s alphabetized half the magical ingredients.
If only someone would do something about the wizards that seem to be hatching a villainous plot.
The job falls to Cimorene, so, armed with a bucket of washwater and a thriving common sense, she takes on the Wizards, with the help of some quirky dragons, a properly kidnapped princess, a witch with far too many cats, and one prince, as long as he is well-behaved and doesn’t try much rescuing.
Read-alikes: E.D. Baker’s Frog Princess Series, Once Upon a Marigold, Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.
This is not the first fairytale-inspired topsy-turvy story, but it’s the best. Whatever Mrs. Wrede sets her mind to writing she does better than anyone else. (With the possible exception of the series set in the fantasy word of Lyra. But as that was written at least forty years ago, I excuse it on the grounds that almost no fantasy books were worth reading then.) And Dealing with Dragons (and quartet) are almost sheer concentrated zany fun. The story toys with established fairy tale elements in delightful ways, adding quirky novelties along the way.
Some of the things I enjoy most are the knights that come trying to rescue Cimorene. She sends them away in disgrace, of course, to their dismay and mystification. When the prince she was meant to marry arrives, Cimorene informs him that he is eighth, and that she is not impressed by his timeliness. She expects true love to come racing after her. But Thrash or Throckmorton or Whatever-his-name-is informs her loftily that it just wouldn’t do to be the first. It wouldn’t be suitably grand to rescue her from the dragon until said dragon has defeated a proper slew of knights. Cimorene gently breaks the news: the dragon has defeated no knights to date. The dragon is not even aware that knights have come.
Also fun are the neighborhood princesses. They were captured the regular way, and seem to spend most of their time mooning about, bemoaning their lot in life. They do still keep the niceties of society that they can, and so they come calling on Cimorene, in their best gowns and tiaras that probably came out of the dragon’s hoard. Cimorene is wearing her grubbiest work dress and scrubbing the kitchen. Not the reception they had anticipated. But they soldier on, determined to be proper princesses, and very much getting in Cimorene’s way and on Cimorene’s nerves.
Cimorene deals with all the hurdles that come her way with wry cleverness. She faces a cheating genie, irritating neighborhood princesses, amateur spellcasting, and the machinations of wizards with aplomb. Perhaps the deportment classes her parents gave her rubbed off after all.