A delightful middle-grade fantasy falters only in its excess of exuberance.
Matilda, the 13-year-old princess of a tiny medieval fiefdom, has been lame since birth; consequently, her people consider her “cursed” and fear she will remain unwed. Tilda refuses to show any hurt; after all, she’d rather retire to a convent and write great treatises anyway. But when her only friends, her handmaid Judith and the disgraced squire Parzifal, rescue her from a kidnapping plot, Tilda decides that, rather than return home, the trio should instead begin researching her first work: a Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Dragons, however, prove to be the least of the perils ahead of her….Haskell’s sophomore outing is another clever, witty and empowering tale, fluently melding historical fact and legendary material. Tilda is a splendid heroine: Wry, intelligent, sensitive and stronger than she thinks, she conceals her pain behind icy stoicism and discounts her courage and compassion as foolishness. Judith and Parz seem to be charming and supportive companions, although readers scarcely get to know them. There are simply too many intriguing characters and too many dramatic encounters for any to be explored satisfactorily. Tilda is held prisoner no less than three different times, and she faces down supernatural threats, from dragons to the Wild Hunt to an evil sorcerer, all on the way to an epiphany that completely alters her self-perception and goals.
While suffering from a surfeit of events and ideas, still a truly terrific read. (Historical fantasy. 10-14)