Book Review: Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
Tilda has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.
When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.
Merrie Haskell, author of The Princess Curse, presents a magical tale of transformation, danger, and duty, starring a remarkable princess as stubborn as she is brave.
Merrie Haskell’s first book, The Princess Curse, was an excellent middle grade book. So, I was excited when I heard she was publishing another middle grade book, Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Dragons, you say? Yes please! Haskell is known to mix myths and legends into her books and for capable and independent female characters. I was really interested in seeing what Haskell had crafted for us in her new book.
Things I Liked
Secondly, kudos for another capable and independent main female character and this time one that has a physical handicap. Tilda overcomes at lot of obstacles in this book; physical obstacles in the form of her foot, then breaking out of the prison that was her status and truly understanding what she wants. Haskell has a way of writing girls with spirit and determination that I really enjoy. Tilda won’t let anything stand in her way and she fights for what she wants, even if what she wants changes and matures through the book. Even Judith was amazing. She’s strong willed and I love that she snuck off for secret dragon slaying lessons with Parz.
I thought Tilda’s disability was well handled. Her clubfoot constantly pains her and separates her from others, so much so that her own people scorn her, but Tilda chooses to not let her deformity control her. It does have an influence on her, as she sees herself and how she thinks other people see her, but she strives to not let it define her. I also like how there was no magical fix for her at the end and how she accepts herself just as she is and realizes how important she is to Alder Brook and her friends. It took the loss of their princess to realize how much they really value her and Tilda the same for Alder Brook. There was no magical hand wave to get rid of the unpleasant bits to make Tilda ‘perfect’ and that really made me enjoy the character more.
Handbook for Dragon Slayers is just the type of adventurous, original middle grade book I adore. The slight love triangle is background to the main plot that includes dragons, evil knights, and magical horses. It’s exciting and you don’t want to put the book down.
Things I Didn’t Like
I didn’t recognize the myths Haskell used in Handbook for Dragon Slayers. The metal horses are obviously from some myth but it’s one I’m not readily familiar with the way The Twelve Dancing Princesses and the Persephone myths were in The Princess Curse. It took away some of the shine. I also can’t help but think that the target audience, young children, would be even more confused. They’re not going to have the first clue of what The Wild Hunt is and will probably just think it’s made-up, which is a shame.
Speaking of The Wild Hunt, Haskell goes through the trouble of making the lead horsewoman intimidating and scary and then does very little with them. The main villain is a power hungry delusional knight who really should know better than to try and entrap the Fey. It never ends well for the human. I was a little disappointed at the end when The Wild Hunt returned and then everything is hand waved away and is now hunky-dory.
The elements of Handbook for Dragon Slayers are practically tailor fit to make me gush. It’s the type of adventure that makes me feel like a kid again, rushing around the backyard with a princess crown and a plastic sword I’d stolen from my older brother. (Yes, I was one of those little girls. I was determined to be both a princess and a knight and no amount of teasing from my brother and his friends would change my mind.) Tilda was the perfect unconventional hero and her journey to self-acceptance was smart and fun. Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell was a good second book and I very much enjoyed it.