Would the OG Dragon Queen please stand up?

First, a plug!  My friend Sarah Maree, who recommended the Enchanted Forest series to me, just published her very first book!  It’s called Positivity Camp, and it’s basically like Addams Family Values if the whole movie had been about the summer camp.  If you’re participating in the #ArmedWithABingo challenge, this would be a fun dystopian or indie read.

The cover of Positivity Camp.  You see the wooden entrance to a campground.  It's a rectangular arch with the words "Positivity Camp" at the top.  Tacked to the right side of the arch are two pieces of manila-colored paper.  The top one reads: "Not and any shortening thereof."  The bottom one reads: "Forbidden words: No, Bad, Nasty, Awful, Terrible, Worse, Never."  Through the archway, you see a dirt road leading into a green forest..

And now, on with the dragons!

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Enchanted Forest playlist (part 2):

  • Songs from the Seelie Court (a NeriSiren spotify playlist).
    .
  • The Cats original cast recording.
    .
  • The Shrek soundtracks (I’ll bet you a bushel of invisible dusk-blooming chokevines that Dreamworks based their own Flying Talking Donkey on Killer).
    .
  • “Holding Out For a Hero,” by Bonnie Tyler.
    .
  • Wizards Never Die,” by the Wizards (OMG, definitely NOT appropriate for kids, but holy hilarity, I can absolutely imagine this as the Society’s villain song).

Cover of Calling on Dragons.  A giant blue donkey with enormous white wings grins as he flies a sword-wielding hero with streaming dark hair and a flapping pink cape (I'm guessing that's Cimorene?) to the top window of a grey stone tower.  Inside the window are two figures: a woman with long, dark red hair and a balding man with lighter red hair.  Both are staring out at the donkey, whose back legs are straddling a manila banner that says "Patricia C. Wrede."

Patricia C. Wrede.  Calling on Dragons.  New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.  Nook.

Rating:  3.95 out of 5 giant vegetarian Big Macs you just want to drop on Killer and be done with him.

Recommended if you like:  Cats.  Like, All The Cats.  Like, if you were Kristoff, but had cats instead of reindeer.  Like, if you’re secretly planning to become a badass Crazy Cat Lady when you grow up.

Bingo square:  a young adult novel.

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Twelve-year-old Neri would have aDORed this book.  I probably would’ve read it while munching on Meow Mix and playing That Darn Cat (the 90s remake) on loop.  Even though I’ve long-since moved on from that phase, Morwen’s housemates were still one of my favorite parts of this book.  That and the fact that Morwen herself got to be the p.o.v. character this time.  I don’t know why, but I found myself imagining her as an alternate-universe Ginny Weasley who moved to the Enchanted Forest instead of marrying Harry and became a magical cat lady.

Also, can I just say that, as much as I loved The Last Unicorn, I love how Patricia Wrede reverses the gender dynamics by making witches the heroes and wizards the villains?

And also, who else wants to see Cimorene join forces with Peach and Zelda to form a Princesses Kidnapped on Purpose Club?

Aaaanyhoo, as fun as this story was, I could kind of tell, by this point, that Wrede wasn’t crazy about the middle episodes of her tetralogy.  Apparently, she got so frustrated even trying to think of a title for Book 3 that, out of spite, she turned it in as Bowling for Dragons (a reference joke about the game show Bowling for Dollars).*

She did somehow manage to slip a cat named Murgatroyd through the final edits. 😀

If you’re reading these books in story-chronological order (i.e. starting with Dealing and ending with Talking), you can safely read on, because I’m saving the spoilers for page 2.

To put it vaguely, the whole situation felt pretty contrived by the end of the book.  For one thing, the presence of a flying dragon was a bit like the presence of the Eagles in Lord of the Rings — it raises the question of why the quest had to be so long and complicated when there was such a convenient form of transportation available.  The difference, or so I’m told, is that the plot hole is much more adequately filled in in the LoTR books.

I mean, okay, assuming Telemain’s teleportation charms were the absolute fastest method (or maybe they just didn’t want the wizards to see Kazul approaching), Kazul could have at LEAST carried everyone besides Killer across the muddy swamp, couldn’t she?

But, more importantly, WHY would you attach half of the forest’s protection spell to . . . sigh, see me on page 2 if you don’t mind spoilers.

I also wasn’t thrilled about the ending.  As I said re: the previous book, Cimorene’s arc could have gone in a totally different direction and, while the actual outcome was sweet in Book 2, I much prefer my own headcanon for Book 3.  Any animators want to see my theory and create a HISHE-style parody?

Cover of Talking to Dragons.  A dark green dragon's head glares angrily at an elf, who is dangling by the hood of his blue top from the dragon's mouth.  The elf has a pointy red hat and red pants, with pointed black shoes.  He has a dark beard, mustache, and pointed ears.  Looking on behind the dragon are a young woman with long red hair (her hands are on her hips) and a young man with long black hair (he's holding a sword point-down with both hands and his blue cape is flapping behind him.  In the background is a white mountain range tinted with hints of purple, beneath a purple sky.

Patricia C. Wrede.  Talking to Dragons.  New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.  Nook.

Rating: 3 out of 5 perpetually astonished lizards.

Recommended if you like:  Stories that somewhat poke fun at fairy tale formulas (while still generally upholding said formulas).  Stories with snarky female characters.  Stories that subvert gender norms.

Bingo square:  A borrowed book (from my library’s digital collection.  Libraries FTW!).

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I could definitely tell that Book 4 was a set-up for a longer story.  As a standalone novel, it would have been extremely unsatisfying, with all those un-fleshed-out backstories.  If I had been one of Wrede’s initial readers, back in 1985, I would have definitely been clamoring for a prequel (or three).

As a fairy tale parody, it was also less fun than Dealing With Dragons, because, rather than subverting and satirizing fairy tale tropes, this book makes such a big point of sticking to the Formula that the plot feels contrived and the characters feel constrained.  Daystar has to accomplish certain tasks in a certain order just because, shrug, that’s how these stories work.  Characters who were so badass in the first three books (namely, Cimorene and Morwen) feel like they have way less agency in the end, because they’re forced to fulfill a fairy tale prophecy rather than making any true decisions of their own.  This, again, ties into my problems with the ending of Book 3.

As for that proverbial Snarky Female Sidekick I mentioned in the “Recommended for” section, she almost feels more like a L.I.N.E.T.S.** than a truly helpful team member.  She does try to stop Daystar from doing foolish things in the name of the Formula, but Daystar just ends up doing those things anyway, so we readers can laugh or roll our eyes at the obvious consequences.

For all my complaints, though, I did like what the story was trying to do, and I’m glad I read the whole series.  I feel roughly the same way as I did when reading the sequel to Wildwood Dancing — you can easily just read book 1, but the good parts of 2 through 4 were awesome despite the issues (did I mention the meta-larious chapter titles in Book 3?).  And Book 4 was the first one, in publishing order, to introduce the idea that King of the Dragons is a non-gender-specific title, and that a being could decide for themselves what gender they want to be.  Definite props for that.

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More (SPOILERY) thoughts on page 2.

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*  Calling on Dragons.  Introduction.  Pg. 8.

**  This is a concept the Nostalgia Chick discussed in her Dragonheart review.  It stands for Love Interest Non-Essential To (the) Story. 

6 comments

  1. I think that both my daughter and I liked the first one of this series so much that we forgave the subsequent ones their faults because we liked spending a little more time in that world.

    • Agreed! I do think Cimorene made the absolute best of her situation after Book 3, and I LOVE the way Book 2 fleshes out the structure of the Forest and its magic.

  2. Thanks so much for having my book on your blog! I look forward to doing the same for your someday ^_^

    Now then, on to talk of this awesome collection of dragons and mayhem. I have to agree 100%, the Morwen book was the best one! I’m partial to cats, and it had ALL the cats. By far, my favorite. To avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it there. Still though, cats. If nothing else, cats. ❤

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