Handbook for Dragon Slayers is written by Merrie Haskell. It was published in 2013 by HarperCollins. Haskell’s website can be found here.
“Tilda 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.”
What I Liked:
Right on the heels of a “rebellious” princess story that I actually liked comes another one! Tilda is rebellious not because it just seems to come naturally with the role of princess, but because a.) she’s afraid of what her people think about her and b.) she’s afraid that she can’t rule her people well. Give me that over random, no development, “I could never live that way!” statements any day. To make things even better, she recognizes that she has a duty, and she places that duty over her own feelings which she realizes were selfish, anyway. YES.
One thing that really stood out to me about this book was the cover art. If there’s any genre that does cover arts pretty well, it’s fantasy MG/YA. The cover art for this book is what got me to read it (and the interesting title).
Boethius is mentioned in this book! So is Plato! I’d never thought I’d ever see those two referenced in any MG/YA book, much less a fantasy one. But the world is pretty much a mythical old England, with references to those two philosophers plus mythology like the Wild Hunt and, of course, dragons.
I loved how over the course of the book that Tilda keeps running into people that are villains (or that she thinks are villains), but then realizes soon after that there are bigger villains then them. Hermannus, who is not a villain at all; Ivo, who is a minor villain; and Egin, who is the biggest villain. Although, perhaps the biggest villain in the book is Tilda herself, who starts out profoundly selfish and ignorant and then learns some great things about what ignorance does and is along the way (see my review of Black Beauty for additional joy over the dangers of ignorance).
What I Didn’t Like:
For all the great things in this book, I didn’t much care for the “main” theme, although I’m not sure whether it was the delivery of the theme or the actual theme itself. It seemed too simple of a theme for this type of book. But the emphasis on evil dragons versus evil humans was great.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: A bit of violence and scary images.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
I felt the ice mask descend on my face, and the bands of iron wrap around my heart once more. Alder Brook didn’t love me, and I didn’t love them. If they truly didn’t want me to be their princess…
“You can have it,” I said dully.
I’d caught him off guard. “What?”
I swallowed against the weird lump in my throat—part anger, part a hundred other feelings I couldn’t even name. “Yes. Alder Brooke is yours. They hate me. They think I’m cursed….So. Take it.”
“All right then,” I said, and patted the silver mare. “How do you feel about the name Joyeuse, my dear?”
The mare snorted a little, and the earth suddenly moved up, down, and sideways rapidly. “What just happened?” I asked.
Parz and Judith were staring at me. Or rather, at my horse.
“I think your horse just danced,” Judith said.
I tried not to look smug as I patted the mare again. “Joyeuse is clever like that.”
A book about a princess that I can actually fully get behind instead of partly hating the overused rebellious trope! Also made doubly awesome by the mentions of Boethius and Plato, and there are some great messages about ignorance and selfishness too. Plus, the cover art is gorgeous.
You can buy this here: Handbook for Dragon Slayers