Dealing with Dragons is an absolutely charming book. (By the way, if anyone knows where I can get a copy of this cover edition, let me know! I lost mine a while back and they're now on a new edition, so the first book doesn't match the rest of the set.) I read it for one of my reading challenge categories, "A book you've read before that never fails to make you smile." This is a middle-grade book that I originally read when I was its intended target, but even as an adult I liked going back to it for a fast, light read that might not be "laugh out loud" funny but is definitely "crack a smile to yourself" charming.
The story is about Princess Cimorene, who is a most improper princess. She wants to learn how to fence and cast magic and is absolutely bored by embroidery and etiquette. Of course, this is a very typical character type for books, but it's not a typical princess type for Cimorene's kingdom. When Cimorene finds out her parents are planning to marry her off to a most boring prince in an attempt to settle her down, she runs away and becomes the servant of a dragon--which is considered a very proper thing for a princess to do, though it's usually because said princess has been kidnapped, not because she's done it by choice. Cimorene's governing dragon is Kazul, who takes Cimorene on (instead of eating her) to categorize her library (which is largely in Latin) and cook her cherries jubilee. Cimorene settles into her new position right away, facing even the most boggling of dilemmas with a calm, cool, practical attitude that is absolutely refreshing. She's not one to make stupid or emotional decisions, as so many teenaged protagonists are likely to do, and seems to have a steadying effect on all those around her. And when a problem with wizards pops up, Cimorene is eager to help.
The world of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles is one that could be traversed easily with assistance from Diana Wynne Jones' Tough Guide to Fantasyland. It's a land of self-aware cliches and tropes, which makes fun of both them and itself in equal measure. And though Cimorene's character archetype is a trope in and of itself, it's so different from the world around her that it absolutely works. Bits of different stories can be seen here and there, inhabiting the world around her; another princess has been almost forced into every fairy tale trope in the book, to no avail, until her family finally managed to get her kidnapped by a dragon. None of the characters are necessarily deep, but they're all quaint and charming and serve their purposes just fine. It also offers a few startling inversions of tropes, one of which is tied directly to the climax of the book.
This is the first in a series, but it can very easily be read by itself. It's a fast read, about two hundred pages of large print, and the writing style (because it's really a middle-grade book) is of course easy to get through as well. Wrede has a matter-of-fact writing style that manages to be engaging and to the point without sacrificing the immersive reading experience or challenging suspension of disbelief. Could things be a little more developed? Of course. But there's three more books for that.
Overall, this is such a fun read, and I had a great time re-reading it as an adult even though I'm no longer its target audience. If you have younger readers, this is a great book for them that I think is enjoyable for anyone reading along.
4 stars out of 5.