Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, was published in 1990 by Harcourt.
Meet Princess Cimorene—a princess who refuses to be proper. She is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart….And bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon. And not just any dragon, but Kazul—one of the most powerful and dangerous dragons around. Of course, Cimorene has a way of hooking up with dangerous characters, and soon she’s coping with a witch, a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird, a stone prince, and some very oily wizards. If this princess ran away to find some excitement, it looks like she’s found plenty!
I normally don’t like the “princesses refuse to be proper princesses” trope, but Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles is one of my favorite series and does the rebellious princess trope in a way that actually makes me like it. For one thing, it’s refreshing to read about a princess who chooses to spend her days cooking and organizing and cleaning. For another, the book is also silly and funny, which makes it even better.
Wrede pokes a lot of fun at numerous fairy tales in this book and subverts them in the process, while also building her own fantasy world revolving around the politics of dragons and wizards. Cimorene’s world is not just another “let’s stuff a bunch of fairy tale references in” type of world, but one that is slightly more developed—while still relying on fairy-tale-esque elements. The book also reminded me slightly of Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, if only because both Cimorene in this book and Aerin in that one come up with a way to make themselves dragon-fire-proof.
This isn’t my favorite Enchanted Forest book, if only because I find it tends to drag in places. It takes a while for things to start happening and Cimorene’s sensibility can be grating at times. And at one part one character says something that is an obvious “Pay attention! It’s going to be important later!” moment. But there’s a lot of charm and memorable moments in this book, which tends to make the not-so-great parts less apparent.
I also love the cover art of this particular edition of the book (and the other three in the series); it really matches the whimsical tone of the series as a whole.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“What can I do for you?” Cimorene said after several moments had gone by and the knight still hadn’t said anything.
“Well, um, if you are the Princess Cimorene, I’ve come to rescue you from the dragon,” the knight said.
Cimorene set the point of the broadsword on the ground and leaned on it as if it were a walking cane. “I thought that might be it,” she said. “But I’d rather not be rescued, thank you just the same.”
“Not be rescued?” The knight’s puzzled look deepened. “But princesses always—”
“No, they don’t,” Cimorene said firmly, recognizing the beginning of a familiar argument. “And even if I wanted to be rescued, you’re going at it all wrong.”