13-year-old Matilda might be one of the Illustrious, but she is not a happy princess. Her father has died on crusade, and now her mother has failed to return home from a journey. Her future responsibility of running her family's medieval fiefdom is beginning to close in.
Matilda has no desire to be saddled with such responsibility. She loves books and scribing, and dreams of being tucked away behind cloistered walls, free to write to her heart’s content with no demands upon her. (I have lots of days where I feel like that!)
Not only does she not want to be the future ruler of her people, everyone thinks she’s cursed due to her lamed foot, so why would they want her as their liege? And now her nasty cousin has decided to usurp her while she’s defenceless without her parents. So what’s a girl to do in such a situation? Run away and hunt dragons, of course, or, more specifically, accompany her loyal maid and a disgraced young squire on their quest to slay a dragon. Once she's helped them complete their venture, she can retire to a convent and forget all her troubles. Simple.
But the quiet writerly life she yearns for is not to be. Instead she's swept up into a whirlwind of terrifying adventures – kidnappings, forced marriage, a murderous sorcerer, not to mention the fire breathing dragons they were so foolhardy to track down. She will have to face all her fears to find the courage to help save herself and her friends, and to understand her true worth as a princess of her people.
I loved every word of Handbook for Dragon Slayers: funny dialogue, an endearing heroine, not to mention magical horses, are just some of the delightful elements of this story. Germanic myths and folktales are woven through the narrative, and the setting of medieval Germany is enriched with historic detail. Add in some Faerie Wild Hunts and talking dragons and you have what I think is a perfect coming-of-age fairy tale with noble themes of friendship, heroism, and discovering one's self worth.