Previously: Saw the cover for this tonight at Written in the Mitten. Gorgeous (though now all I'll be able to think about when I see it was the discussions it caused on horse and dragon proportions and genetics (ish)...)=DAnd then: Just for my own records, my copy has 320 pages, not 240. 320 glorious pages. This is 2 lovely, perfect books in a row now; I am decidedly in Merrie Haskell's corner.Review:A couple of days ago, I gushed about The Princess Curse, which is sort of loosely connected to Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Though it may not be a fairy tale retelling as The Princess Curse was, it has a lot in common with that charming middle grade book that took over my brain. They have similar worlds (separated by some centuries and location, yes, but with a generalized medieval Easter European setting), and there are also subtle little "easter eggs" that link the two books more fully. Both feel complete as stand-alones, but also work as companion pieces in the larger framework of Haskell's two (so far) apprentice stories. But what they share most strongly is their excellent, plucky, admirable main characters.I talked a bit in my review of TPC about how Reveka was exactly what I wanted - and needed - in a female protagonist as a kid, and how she's the type I still immediately fall for now. Tilda, the main character of Handbook, is much the same. Haskell has a way with plucky, awesome characters, girls with strength and determination and spirit, and a passion to make them memorable. You can't help but root for and love Haskell's characters; they're fresh and vibrant and thoughtful. And most importantly to me, they're smart - not in an obnoxious, precocious way, but there is a subtle layer to both characters that tells the reader (ie mostly young girls) that these girls are smart and talented, and they use those smarts and talents to follow their passion, and that's what makes them awesome. At the risk of sounding boring and cliched myself, they're role models - but they're not boring and cliched. [See what I mean about how Haskell's books were exactly what I wanted/needed when I was a kid?]On a similar note, Handbook's main character, Tilda, has a clubfoot. This is a painful-enough affliction on its own, but in medieval times when modern medicine and pain relief are hard to come by, if not non-existent, and you're a princess who's supposed to be seen as strong leader material? Needless to say, this is a huge plot point for Tilda, and I thought it was handled really well. Tilda suffers, but she isn't a whiny martyr; it does have an undeniable influence on who she is and how she reacts to the world around her - and how she expects the world around her to react to her, but in the end, she won't let it define her. I thought Haskell made a lot of smart choices in the handling of Tilda's disability, and the fact that there's no magical resolution was an excellent choice for me. Not only does it make her more relatable and sympathetic, and add a great deal of "interestingness" to her character, but to have a magical, fantastic story that doesn't wave a wand and do away with any "unsavory" bits is exactly what I would want, and what I think is needed. Having a clubfoot doesn't make Tilda less, and though she has this brief moment where she thinks (hopes, longs for, wonders if) maybe she could be magically cured, I think it was an excellent choice on Haskell's part not to.There's a lot going on in this story...many, many plot points, and to some it may feel chaotic or confusing. I never found it too much to keep track of, and I think the points played well off of one another, but I can see why, to some, it may make it harder to follow, or make them feel like the story was rushed or scattered. But to me, it's a sprawling adventure story in that grand way that you only seem to get in kids books, and reading it brings back some of that irrepressible eagerness and energy that comes with being a kid. As a middle-grader, I would have been completely engrossed and would, without a doubt, have fallen in love with Haskell's world, her characters, and their adventures. As always, highly recommended for those who like middle grade, have middle graders, or want a fun historical fantasy/adventure with a strong, likable female lead.