My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I will confess a considerable bias in writing this review. Let me tell you a story…
Once upon a time there was a young(ish) man who took his family off to a strange and bizarre land, where they settled – for a few months – in the home of a family who were away visiting strange(r) lands of their own. With two small children in tow also having to deal with a world which was bewildering and magical in its own way, the young(ish) man and his wife did their best to make their children’s world as safe as possible. And so, every night, the man and his two children would sit in a HUGE cauldron of a chair, pull out a book from the nearby shelf, and read stories to help the children to sleep easily in their strange beds. The first book he pulled out happened to be about a princess and dragons but it was not at all what they all expected. It wasn’t at all…’proper’. They loved it and devoured all the remaining books before their time in that home was over.
And so that’s how I came to know and love Wrede’s brilliant and hugely underrated series of books about Princess Cimorene and her dragon, Kazul. For three months, both my kids and I loved sitting in that huge bamboo chair reading the ‘Enchanted Forest Chronicles’ in Dhaka, Bangladesh while we did our language training. We spent five years after that living in rural Bangladesh, but never forgot those few weeks dealing with the nightmare that is Dhaka. Wrede’s books helped make it rather magical.
Well, we’ve been back in the UK for seven years at the time of writing and the children are now adult-sized and grown up, but I’ve never forgotten those wonderful books even though I had forgotten the names and details. Having just reached the age of fifty recently, I’m getting horribly nostalgic as I feel my age and keep trying to escape back to yesteryear. Hence, I began the (Google) search for these books. I only succeeded in locating them a few weeks ago and immediately bought the series for myself.
This first in the series introduces Cimorene, the princess who does NOT want to get married and be ‘proper’. So she runs off and becomes ‘the princess’ of Kazul, a fierce but wise female dragon.
There’s much here that seems to be quite feminist: the independence of Cimorene, the uselessness and lack of intelligence of the knights who attempt to save her, her ability to stand up for herself even with dragons, and of course, the way she saves the day when it matters. And Kazul, for that matter, is female and yet, it turns out, is eligible to be the ‘King’ of the dragons (but not ‘queen’ – that’s an entirely different job).
But as the author herself explains in the introduction, she didn’t set out to write a feminist novel for young people. Cimorene may have run off to live with a dragon, but she still does all the cooking and cleaning. She’s house proud and isn’t averse from wearing pretty frocks when the need arises. She’s no tomboy who needs ‘taming’, nor no closet lesbian who hates all men. These stereotypes are avoided. She’s actually just very normal and down-to-earth in this fantasy land.
This, of course, makes her a brilliant role model – especially for girls – which is probably why my daughter and I liked it so much the first time around. She’s not Hermione Granger – an impossible character to emulate. Nor is she Anne of Green Gables – naive and forever getting into clumsy scrapes. This hero is intelligent, thoughtful, capable and absolutely believable (or as much as you can be as a princess living with magical dragons in an enchanted forest).
Wrede herself writes with gentle wit and light-heartedness. The book is exceptionally easy to read (I womped through it in little more than a train journey to London and back to Cumbria) but isn’t childish. While my daughter would have been eight when we read it together and she loved it, I think this book is ideal as a transition into YA literature. Not unlike the Harry Potter books, it is good for young teenagers while charming enough for adults.
Or, at least, charming enough for THIS adult. For I am thoroughly looking forward to reading the second instalment of four. After the heaviness of politics and history I’ve been reading recently, these are simply delightful books, the analogous equivalent of a nice cup of tea and a sit down. I like Cimorene and Kazul, I care about them, and I want to continue on in their company. Read it to your children; read it to your grandchildren; get them copies to read for themselves; do any of this, but read ‘Dealing with Dragons’ for yourself too.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
His latest book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.