Talking to Dragons is the fourth and final book in Patricia C. Wrede’s ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES, though it was actually the first book in the series to be published (1985). Wrede wrote the later three books (Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons) as prequels and now the correct reading order is to start with those three prequels and read Talking to Dragons last. So, in this review, I’ll be spoiling a bit of the plot of the prequels.
The hero of Talking to Dragons is Daystar, son of Princess Cimorene and King Mendanbar. At the end of the previous book, Calling on Dragons, Mendanbar was trapped in his castle by the evil wizards and Cimorene, who was pregnant, left the forest to give birth to Daystar and to wait for him to grow up so he could take Mendanbar’s sword to the castle and rescue his father. So, one day when Daystar is 16, Cimorene gives him the sword and off he goes without any instructions. He has no idea who he really is, who his parents really are, and what he’s supposed to do. (There is some trumped up but not totally believable reason for the secrecy.)
On his quest, which he doesn’t understand, Daystar meets all the denizens of the Enchanted Forest that we know from the previous three books. They all know who he is, of course. I suspect that Daystar found these meetings a lot more interesting than I did since I already knew all these people and didn’t need to have them introduced again. (This reminded me of some of the later OZ books that simply feel like just another tour of Oz.)
After many adventures and close calls, Daystar finally gets to the castle and figures out what’s going on, thanks to some long boring info-dumps. His reactions and responses are completely unbelievable. He finds out that he has a father who’s the king of the forest and has been in an enchanted sleep, basically, for 17 years. And he’s a prince and heir to the throne. Hello? That’s a pretty major change in worldview, but it hardly fazes Daystar. Then he decides he’s in love with a character who’s been a complete brat for the entire story. Weird.
I’ve mentioned in my reviews of the first three books in this series that what I liked best about the ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES (at least in the first two books) was the way Wrede subverted stereotypical gender roles by having Cimorene refuse to be a pampered princess and decide instead to go off and have her own adventure. Then, in the second book, Mendanbar refuses to marry a pampered princess and falls in love with the smart and competent Cimorene.
But Talking to Dragons, which was actually the first ENCHANTED FOREST book to be published, doesn’t do this. Rather, we see that Cimorene, instead of trying to find some way to rescue her husband herself, has stayed home for 17 years to raise her son and send him off to do the dirty work. That doesn’t sound like the Cimorene we met in Dealing with Dragons. She would not have waited for a man to do the job for her. Even if she couldn’t have held the king’s magic sword, she would have figured out some way to reunite with her husband and the father of her son. Then, when Daystar does go off on his own, the first person he meets is a young lady who spends a lot of time crying and whining. And then he falls in love with her? This doesn’t seem right, and I found it disappointing.
My advice is to read the first two books: Dealing with Dragons and Searching for Dragons. In my opinion, the last two books can easily be skipped. The unabridged full cast audio versions of the ENCHANTED FOREST books are very nice productions. Talking to Dragons is 6.5 hours long.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles — (1985-1990) Young adult. A boxed set is available. Publisher: Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart… And bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon… and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for.