Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Handbook for Dragon SlayersInformation

Goodreads: Handbook for Dragon Slayers
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 2013

Official Summary

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.

3 stars Briana

2 thoughts on “Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

  1. Ellen @ Quest Reviews says:

    I’m hoping to get more into middle grade, now that I’ll be reading and rec’ing books to my little nieces and nephews coming up!

    It’s interesting what you say about the characters seeming constructed rather than flesh-and-blood. Immediately I’m thinking of my own experiences and hardships in writing… For NaNoWriMo last year, I wrote a MG, and it was HARD. It was so difficult to write all the complexity I wanted… in a MG package. I’m not sure I succeeded. In a lot of ways the book wound up being like The Golden Compass and Chronicles of Narnia… Okay, I feel weird comparing my measly books to those giants, but… it was similar in the sense that it was a kid’s book written from a very adult voice.

    So, maybe in order to keep that MG voice, it becomes even harder to write full-bodied characters? What do you think?


    • Briana says:

      Interesting point! I guess, on a whole, middle grade tends to have flatter characters than YA or adult books. But I have seen some really great, well-developed characters in middle grade. L. M. Montgomery, Shannon Hale, and Jennifer A. Nielsen come immediately to mind, though I”m sure I could probably come up with a few others.

      But I think it does make sense that sometimes the problems of middle grade seem not like “real problems” and authors might struggle with making a really complex character out of that. Maybe the trick is to have some background and side stories in addition to whatever the main plot is, so the character is defined by their relationship with their family, their interactions with their friends, the main adventure, and all sorts of things.


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