Friday, August 12, 2011

Review - The Dragonslayers by Bruce Coville

Short review: An angry witch. An elderly knight. A headstrong princess. An eager squire. A terrible dragon. Mix them together in a magical forest and produce a fun adventure story.

Take a knight and witch
Add one cross-dressing princess
And fight a dragon

Full review: Take one angry witch, one headstrong princess, one elderly knight, one overly enthusiastic orphan squire, and one conjured dragon. Mix them together in a magical forest, and what you get is The Dragonslayers. You also get a fun story about bravery and a story about what seeking revenge can potentially cost you.

Grizelda is a witch who hates the king. To get revenge, she conjured up a dragon with a spell that causes the dragon to become the instrument of her vengeance. In due course, King Mildred (a name that causes him some consternation) finds out and tries to get his best knights to slay the beast (by offering half his kingdom and his daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who does so). Unfortunately, they all decline the task, and in their stead, Elizar the oldest living squire is quickly promoted and given the task. He chooses an orphan pageboy named Brian to become his squire and together they set off to the Forest of Wonder.

However, the king's headstrong daughter Princess Wilhelmina, who doesn't like the idea of being cooped up in a castle, and absolutely rejects the idea that girls can't be knights, has other ideas. In the proud tradition of headstrong princesses, she disguises herself as a boy, and sets out to slay the dragon herself.

Once the dragonslayers reach the Forest of Wonder, they find themselves drawn into a bunch of adventures, earning a variety of allies and friends along the way. They also end up revealing various things about their respective life histories that make it apparent that Grizelda may end up getting her revenge in a way that will be more painful for her than it is for the king.

The couple of plot twists at the end are fairly obvious, although as this is a book aimed at younger readers, that is probably to be expected. The various characters are all likable enough that it isn't really a problem when all the troubles are solved in the end and all the loose ends tied up in a nice little bow. Overall, this is a very good fairy tale with a nice moral told with a little wit and a lot of humor.

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