Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede: C+

From the back cover:
Always be polite to dragons! That’s what Daystar’s mother taught him… and it’s a very wise lesson—one that might just help him after his mom hands him a magic sword and kicks him out of the house. Especially because his house sits on the edge of the Enchanted Forest and his mother is Queen Cimorene.

But the tricky part is figuring out what he’s supposed to do with the magic sword. Where is he supposed to go? And why does everyone he meets seem to know who he is?

It’s going to take a particularly hotheaded fire-witch, a very verbose lizard, and a badly behaved baby dragon to help him figure it all out. And those good manners certainly won’t hurt!

Back to audio for this concluding volume. Although I recently praised Random House Listening Library for their production of Feed, I’ve overall been disappointed with their work in this series. The biggest irritant, aside from Telemain’s voice, is that emphasis is often placed on the wrong words. This happens all the time, and none of the dialogue sounds truly natural as a result. Here’s an example: Morwen comments on Daystar’s sword, “Parti…cularly since you still haven’t learned to use it properly.” It sounds like she’s calling him a slacker, when he’d only been given the thing the day before.

Regarding the actual content of the book, I wasn’t particularly annoyed by anything, aside from the continued incompetence of the villains. Neither was I particularly interested by anything. Talking to Dragons is boring. Daystar spends the entire book trying to discover what most, if not all, of the readers already know, and when he finally succeeds in getting some answers, the plots of the previous books are explained again. I wonder how likely it is that someone will just pick up book four of a series and start from there. Not very, I’d think.

Maybe for new readers, it would be some big reveal moment, but for everyone who started from the beginning, it’s a total yawn banquet. We know exactly what’s happened and exactly what Daystar is supposed to do, and what he’ll learn when he does it. Earlier books in the series had their share of obvious plot elements, but at least they led to new developments in the story rather than retreads of what’s gone before.

Calling on Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede: B-

From the back cover:
Princess Cimorene is now Queen Cimorene… and she’s faced with her first queenly crisis—the Enchanted Forest is threatened with complete destruction!

Those wizards are back—and they’ve become very smart. (Sort of.) They’ve figured out a way to take over the forest once and for all… and what they have planned isn’t pretty.

With a little help from Kazul the dragon, Morwen the witch, Telemain the magician, two cats, and a blue, flying donkey-rabbit named—what else?—Killer, Cimorene might just be able to stop them.

And some people think that being a queen is easy.

The library didn’t have an unabridged audio version of this one, so I’m reading my own paperback copy. Telemain is far less irksome in this format, I have to report. However, there were many other things that annoyed me. Let’s make a list!

1. Killer. I don’t know what redeeming value this insanely annoying, stupid creature is supposed to add.

2. The endless running gag about how Cimorene finds Telemain impossible to understand when he gets going about magic. Most of the time what he’s saying is completely comprehensible, and she’s an intelligent adult. She should be able to understand it!

3. Kazul’s characterization. When did she get so bloodthirsty and prone to breathing fire? Wasn’t she the most level-headed of the dragons back in book one?

4. Incompetent villains.

5. Plot holes. Cimorene and friends do something to try to locate the missing sword, and then later don’t remember the villains could do the same thing.

There were a few things I did like. Since it’s largely from Morwen’s perspective, her cats’ dialogue is translated. They all have distinct personalities, and Fiddlesticks is particularly cute. Also, the overall tone is darker and less concerned with playing up fairy tales than previous books in the series, and I quite liked the ending. It went a long way in redeeming my overall opinion of the book.

Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede: B+

From the back cover:
The cast: an un-ordinary king, and an extraordinary princess, a couple of kooky giants, an overzealous magician, a loyal and helpful witch, and a host of evil and dangerous wizards.

The instruments: a broken-down magic carpet, a leaking magical sword, and a few buckets of soapy lemon water.

The problem: dragon-napping and magic-stealing.

And so the story begins, one fine day while King Mendanbar is taking a casual stroll through the Enchanted Forest…

It’s interesting that the plot can have some glaring “duh, obvious” elements (the identity of the villains, who Mendanbar will eventually marry, etc.) and yet function perfectly well. I think it’s because it doesn’t hinge on those elements for its success. They’re there, but you’re not expected to be surprised by any of them. Overall, I quite liked Searching for Dragons, but not as much as the first in the series. This is mainly due to the following:

1) It’s a bit repetitive. Here’s what Cimorene and Mendanbar do over and over: Journey a little bit, encounter a fairy tale denizen who behaves a little like his ilk typically do in fairy tales but with a twist, listen to his tale of woe, dispense advice that solves all his problems in an instant, move on, journey a little bit, etc. Maybe I was supposed to appreciate the twists more, but they were only mildly sort of cute, and I was much more interested in the main plot than these side diversions, even if they ultimately helped to further the main story along.

2) Telemain. I think Wrede’s take on magicians is interesting. They’re sort of magic nerds or mechanics, who get into exactly how the magic functions and can diagnose why things are going wrong. Interesting concept aside, Telemain himself is incredibly annoying. Probably, he is more tolerable in print, but in this audio version, he has the most nasally, grating voice that I have ever heard. It literally made me cringe every time he spoke.

Still a worthy series and pleasantly diverting, but I hope for a little change-up from “the villains from book one are behind it all again, surprise” business in the next one.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede: A

From the back cover:
Take one bored princess. Make her the seventh daughter in a very proper royal family. Have her run away.

Add one powerful, fascinating, dangerous dragon.

Princess Cimorene has never met anyone (or anything) like the dragon Kazul. But then, she’s never met a witch, a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird, or a stone prince either.

Princess Cimorene ran away to find some excitement.

She’s found plenty.

I’ve read a lot of YA Fantasy featuring unconventional or improper princess heroines, and at first Cimorene seemed like just another one of them, but ended up distinguishing herself from the others. Alianora is also amusing. The unabridged audio I listened to had different voices for the different characters, and hers was especially good. This also enabled them to do a neat trick – they could overlap lines of dialogue to portray times when people speak simultaneously or interrupt. It was nifty!

The plot of the book is clever, and more especially than that – well explained. I loved that characters were always explaining to others exactly what happened, and that the plot didn’t hinge on misunderstandings or people deciding to stay quiet for no discernible reason. That’s what you do when you have a big problem – give all the facts to everyone to mull over! The end result was that almost all behavior in the book was not only believable, it was logical. There weren’t any moments where I wanted to smack anyone.

I also really liked the portrayal of the dragons in the book, especially their interesting take on gender roles. There was some great voice acting work for the dragons, too, especially in the scene where Kazul has guests for dinner, so if you ever listen to it, remember that I said the voice of the “thin dragon” rocked. This reminds me that if I were pressed to voice a complaint, it’d be that the stone prince doesn’t get named. Hopefully he’ll appear in later books and it will be revealed.