An admirably sophisticated castle fantasy starring a disabled main character with a lot of action, magic, and charm. Handbook for Dragon Slayers is more nuanced in depicting the realities of castle life than most other middle grade castle fantasies, which made it easy to love. Many things are still given a simple treatment appropriate for the audience, but GRRM fans like me will wonder where all the men-at-arms are and why they don’t do anything to protect anyone, ever. Also the kingdom of Alder Brook is too small to swallow some of the plot points; it’s only about the size of Rhode Island, is home to dragons the size of horses and bigger (much bigger), and yet the princess has never seen one before? An animal that size has enormous hunting grounds I guarantee it, and if the castle estate of Alder Brook (where Mathilda lives) actually has 2,000 acres of farmland then yeah I would bet fighting off a hunting dragon or two is a common occurrence. And if you’re a tiny kingdom with a distinctive princess who uses a crutch, said princess can’t go incognito just by giving a fake name! “Oh I’m a noblewoman who’s got the exact same physical appearance and foot condition as the lost princess, but my name is totally not Mathilda, and no this nobleman and maid are not at all the same ones who were last seen helping the princess escape! They’re just a different nobleman and maid I swear we are different people LOL can we get a room in the stable next to our magical horses? And also don’t tell anyone about us? kthx” just… come on.
But. If you go into this book expecting that level of verisimilitude you’re going to have a bad time. If instead you go into it looking for a unique fantasy story of personal growth, friendship, and adventure in a mystical version of feudal Germany with an above-average representation of castle life, you’re going to be really happy. If you go into it looking for a story about a disabled person having an adventure and not being “fixed” and not having her disability define her personality, you’re going to have a great time.