Cimorene is sick of being a princess. They never get to do anything interesting, like fencing, or magic, or reading Latin. Having attempted all of these things- and more- rather than sit through another embroidery lesson, Cimorene is running out of time before her parents foist their troublesome offspring on the lack wit prince of a neighboring realm. With few options left, she decides to take her fate into her own hands and become a dragon’s princess.
I really, really wish I had read Dealing with Dragons when I was the intended age; it would have easily ranked among my favorites. As it is, I still found it fun, and Cimorene a delight. Wrede has created a character that is really and truly a breath of fresh air in fantasy, especially YA fantasy. Though clearly not a “typical” princess, Cimorene is not pigeonholed into the usual clichés that define that well-worn trope- rather than merely being a tomboy or the typical “kick-ass lady” heroine, she is much more developed. She is clever, inventive, loyal, assertive, independent, and snarky-and very (very) little time is spent dwelling on her appearance; it’s all about what she does and who she is, not if she’s pretty or not.
Cimorene is the heart of the book, but there are lots of other great things. The entire story is a send-up of fairy tales and myths, with mentions of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, evil fairies, fairy godmothers, King Arthur, and more- nearly all of which end up being punchlines. It’s a magical world that laughs at itself, and yet the characters are endearing enough to make them feel genuine. The dragons are characters in their own right, and Cimorene’s dragon Kazul (notably a female dragon) is particularly endearing; not only is she smart and funny, but she appreciates Cimorene and her abilities and encourages her to be extraordinary. It is due to Kazul’s trust and appreciation of her that allows Cimorene to save the dragon society from meddling wizards.
I think I can safely say that, despite being funny and light, this book is feminist. Cimorene is not only capable, but refuses to be “rescued,” Kazul is powerful and ambitious without being cruel or demanding, and female friendships are much more important than marriages and happily ever afters. When Cimorene discovers other princesses living with the dragons, she becomes friends with one of them, even though she is much more like a traditional princess than Cimorene, and this friendship is built on appreciating each others' differences.
Again, I wish I had read this when I was younger, as I listened to the audio version of this and it was definitely geared toward a younger audience. The full cast provided for the various voices was wonderful (the dragons especially), but the readers tended to over-enunciate and over-emphasize for the sake of younger listeners, which could have grown tedious with a longer book, but at just around 5 hours long, it was pretty easy to deal with overall.
I will be adding this book to the growing list of stories I look forward to sharing with my son when he gets older.
And I love the original Dalia Hartman cover:
(Cross-posted at Goodreads: Dealing with Dragons)