Goodreads: Handbook for Dragon Slayers
Thirteen-year-old Princess Matilda, whose lame foot brings fear of the evil eye, has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.
When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.
Merrie Haskell, author of The Princess Curse, presents a magical tale of transformation, danger, and duty, starring a remarkable princess as stubborn as she is brave.
Merrie Haskell is one of my solid go-to middle grade fantasy authors. I find most of her books enjoyable, though generally a little confusing when I look too closely at the climax and the magical details. Handbook for Dragon Slayers was no exception.
Protagonist Tilda, a princess who thinks she’d rather not be royalty because she’s certain her people don’t like her anyway, is a spunky girl who will appeal to readers who have ever struggled with responsibility. Tilda is certain anything must be better than attempting to rule a bunch of people who are convinced she’s cursed because she was born splay-footed, and she spends much of the book wondering how she can run away from her duty. It takes some wild adventures for her to realize that she’s a good princess if she’s good at the job and cares for her people, regardless of whether they’re particularly grateful for it. (Though it’s a middle grade book, so of course she finds out that her people are willing to change and love her anyway. I think it would have been braver of the book to leave the people cursing Tilda’s name and not have some mystical revelation about her that makes them become nice, but perhaps it’s a minor detail in the scheme of things.)
The other characters are sketched out a little superficially. Haskell certainly tries to make them multi-faceted, but they still came across to me as artificially created characters, rather than realistic people. I must also say I’ve seen better dragons, even though I’m not a particularly avid dragon book reader, but I appreciate Haskell’s attempt to put her own stamp on them.
Plot-wise, the book is a bit episodic, as is befitting a novel that draws its inspiration from the medieval period. The characters journey about a small geographic area, having adventures and visiting all the medieval stock places one could want: a convent, some castles, a small village, a dragon’s lair. There are some nice historical tidbits thrown into the story, as well, which I appreciated.
Overall, Handbook for Dragons is an entertaining read and one that will appeal to readers who love pseudo-medieval fantasy. Haskell still isn’t up with the best middle grade authors, in my opinion, but her books are good enough that I keep reading them, which I think is actually a pretty good recommendation.