When I was told that Patricia Wrede‘s Dealing with Dragons book had knights, dragons, princesses, talking frogs, wizards, and witches in it, I probably made a weird, scrunched up face. It sounds like the typical damsel in distress (and there are some of them in the story) in a fantasy setting. But Dealing with Dragons is not quite typical.
It starts with a princess who volunteers to be taken captive by a dragon, and who then plots with the dragon on how to discourage all the knights from rescuing her. Here’s how it breaks down using the Her Story Arc Scale of Inclusivity:
Not offensive to women = 1 pt*
Definitely not. This book shows at least four women being strong, assertive, smart, and respected. It also shows some princesses who are not quite there yet, and I loved that. It showed that there’s still a place in the world for a woman who wants to be strong, but isn’t quite sure how to go about bucking 1,000 years of tradition.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts
Yup. In addition to the main character, Princess Cimorene, there are three other princesses. Cimorene is volunteer captive to Kazul, a female dragon who definitely understands the power of wise words. There’s also a witch who comes in handy.
Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts
Big time! My favorite thing about this book is how all the female characters get along. (Well, almost all of them. The two princesses who refuse to see their plight as a chance to learn something and insist on being rescued turn a cold shoulder to Cimorene.) Kazul and Cimorene seem to just understand one another, even when one of them is being pigheaded, and they make allowances for each other’s weaknesses. Kazul is not just someone Cimorene works for, she is an ally. One of the other princesses, Alianora, quickly learns from Cimorene how to see her situation in a new light. The two of them working together to solve problems was also one of the highlights. And when Kazul and the witch get together, there’s almost a territorial electricity between them. In my imagination, they were close to becoming catty, but then Kazul humbled herself enough to admit she really enjoys the witch’s cider, and it heals all egos.
In fact, I can’t think of a single conversation happening between two men in this book. It’s just chalk full of wise women words.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 2 pts
The book is quite silly. It makes fun of itself and its own genre. Which I enjoyed. It did seem a little overtired, though. The idea of dragons and princesses and knights, though flipped upside down, still has a lot of cliches. The world and its magic system is also so vague that I kept expecting plot devices to spring up on every page. Fortunately, there were only three that I felt were rabbits out of a hat just because the writer needed them to happen because plot. But I would have liked for there to be more concrete rules about magic and what it can do.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts
This book is not only a fun, short read with awesome female characters, it teaches a lot of little things about being a woman in a world that expects women to be a certain way. Lessons this book teaches that I hope any future daughters of mine learn:
- If you’re bored with what you’re being taught, find an adult and ask them to teach you something else. Cimorene uses her princess status to bully reluctant craftsmen into teaching her their trade, because she’s bored, and she does it under her parents’ noses who don’t think it’s the proper thing for a princess. She’s a very talented lass and not afraid to ask grown-ups questions.
- If you find something you enjoy doing in life, do it with passion and ignore anyone who tells you you should stop. Cimorene even goes to the point of putting up a fake sign to discourage knights eager to rescue her.
- Find another woman to be your ally. Cimorene learns from Kazul as she stands up to the other dragons. Alianora learns from Cimorene who encourages her to take more responsibility for her life.
- Do everything with excellence. Cimorene could have rested on her laurels in the dragons’ cave all she wanted. But instead, she took pride in her work and organized everything, learned how to trade and barter with the witch, and even brushed up on her Latin. When the other princesses come to commiserate with her and comfort her in her distress, they are rather shocked to find that she is perfectly content and thriving. She owned that job.
The series continues with three other books. Even though I knocked it 2 points for not being quite as artistic as it could have been, I’m so thrilled with the characters I am definitely going to be reading the rest of the series!
13/15 points total.
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*This is a category that could get very complicated, very quickly, if we tried to list everything that could be offensive to women. Instead, we use this category as a way of showing our own personal reaction to whatever we are reviewing. All contributors to this site are women and can speak from a woman’s perspective. However, no woman can speak for all women so we do our best to explain our choice one way or the other. We encourage all readers to share their opinions in the comments of every post if they want to express agreement or disagreement with our rankings.