The rebellious princess has become so common, she's now a cliche. A princess doesn't like her life of privilege and wealth, so she either hangs around her home being rebellious, or she runs away.
But what if a princess ran away from home... to be housekeeper to a dragon?
That's the concept of "Dealing With Dragons," a clever little fantasy that tells its own quirky story while cleverly lampooning the tropes of high fantasy and fairy tales. A lot of the charm comes from Patricia Wrede's humorous dialogue ("Oh bother!") and the cliche-busting character of Cimorene, who just wants to be free to pursue her love of unprincessy things like cooking and magic.
Princess Cimorene is rather put out when she's told that she cannot use swords, Latin conjugation, spoons or magic... because she's a princess. When her parents decide they're going to marry her off to the son of Sathem-by-the-Mountains, she takes the advice of a magic frog and runs away... to become the housekeeper and personal princess of a dragon, Kazul.
This lifestyle suits Cimorene much better than her "proper" princess life, despite the princes and knights who keep trying to rescue her. But she soon discovers that the dragons are in danger from the wizards -- and before long, they have poisoned the King of the Dragons. And if Cimorene doesn't thwart the wizards' plot, dragon society might be turned upside down.
One of the best things about "The Enchanted Forest Chronicles" is that it is a pretty decent high fantasy story. In addition to the whole fun story about a princess trying to escape her stuffy princessy life, there's some entertaining dragon politics, magical strife, and melting wizards. None of it takes itself too seriously, but there is an actual plot here to be appreciated on its own.
But while telling its own story, it's gently poking fun at the sort of things you find in these sorts of stories and how they're typically used (Cimorene tries to avoid a marriage by declaring "he hasn't rescued me from a giant or an ogre or freed me from a magic spell"). And Wrede's writing matches this plot nicely -- quirky and clever, with a slightly British flavour, and plenty of humorous dialogue ("If they'd simply done what they were told, they wouldn't be here." "Still, turning them into slabs of stone forever seems a little extreme").
Since the Rebellious Princess is pretty standard now, it's fun to see one that doesn't whine much, even if she likes all sorts of things that aren't princessy (magic, fencing, cooking cherries jubilee). So her sensible approach to getting her own freedom is quite delightful, especially since it shows that she doesn't need a man. Which, of course, doesn't stop various men -- including her unwanted suitor Therandil -- from coming to rescue her against her will.
And her sensible, no-nonsense approach to everything is really quite charming, whether she's trying to reason with a homicidal jinn or doing Kazul's dishes. Kazul herself is a fun dragon character, being very reasonable and sensible in her own right, and Wrede presents a number of charming characters like Morwen, a witch with cats and a sign that says "NONE OF THIS NONSENSE, PLEASE."
Patricia C. Wrede brings and humour to the old princess/dragon dynamic in "Dealing With Dragons," even as she pokes fun at all the old fairy tale tropes. An enchanting start to an enchanting series.