Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, 1990.
This is the second book in The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, continuing the adventures of Princess Cimorene, although the story is told from the point of view of Mendanbar, King of the Enchanted Forest. The Enchanted Forest is no ordinary kingdom, and Mendanbar is no ordinary king. To be King of the Enchanted Forest means being a skilled enchanter. Mendanbar can use the forest’s magic directly, making him more powerful than wizards. Most of the creatures in the forest obey him, and unlike ordinary people, he can find his way around the forest almost automatically, even though things in the forest tend to move around.
At the beginning of the story, Mendanbar’s steward, Willin, pesters him about the subject of getting married. Mendanbar hasn’t given the matter much thought since his father died three years earlier, but then, there’s been a lot to do. Queen Alexandra has several daughters, any of which would be considered “suitable,” but Mendanbar doesn’t like any of them. Mendanbar is annoyed because he’d just gotten the elf clans’ feud settled and was looking forward to a period of relative calm, so he decides that he’s going to give himself the day off, for a change.
He decides to take a stroll by the Green Glass Pool to relax, but on the way, he encounters a princess. That’s not too unusual for the Enchanted Forest (home to many fairy-tale creatures and the events that make up fairy tales), but this princess strikes Mendanbar as a particularly scheming and ambitious one. She tells him a great tale of woe in which her wicked stepmother cast her out that Mendanbar can tell is carefully rehearsed and might have even been the idea of the stepmother in question, with the idea of hooking an adventurous prince. (Royal families do things like that, see the previous book in the series.) However, Mendanbar is puzzled because the forest usually keeps out people who are obviously selfish. Then, the princess mentions crossing an area of waste to get into the forest, and Mendanbar is alarmed because there shouldn’t be a wasteland there. Forgetting about the princess, he hurries off to investigate.
Sure enough, Mendanbar discovers that a section of the forest is actually missing, destroyed to the point where there are just dead stumps. Even the magic is gone. Upon further investigation, Mendanbar finds dragons scales. He isn’t sure why the dragons would want to attack the Enchanted Forest because they haven’t had any quarrels and mostly leave each other alone. On the advice of a nearby talking squirrel, Mendanbar goes to see the witch Morwen.
After examining the dragon scales, Morwen demonstrates that, although they appear to be different colors and look like they’re from different dragons, they have actually been disguised. They are actually from one dragon only. Morwen also doubts that a dragon was really responsible for the damage to the forest. After all, why would a dragon waste time disguising his scales when he could just pick them up? Also, healthy dragons don’t shed that many scales. Morwen is a friend of Kazul, who is the current King of the Dragons, and she advises Mendanbar to go see Kazul.
Morwen also chides Mendanbar for not visiting Kazul when she became the king the year before. Mendanbar feels a little guilty, saying that he’s just been very busy, which is true. However, Morwen points out that what he could use is more effective help to organize things in the kingdom, not just making lists of things for him to do, like his steward does. It’s part of the reason why people are saying that Mendanbar should get married.
Before Mendanbar can visit Kazul, he gets an unexpected visit from Zemenar, the Head Wizard. Zemenar says that the wizards have been having problems with the dragons (again, see previous book) and that the dragons will not let them enter the Caves of Fire and Night. He hopes that Mendanbar will allow them access from the Enchanted Forest. Mendanbar doesn’t really trust the wizards, and he refuses the request on the grounds that he has something important to discuss with the King of the Dragons himself. Zemenar tells Mendanbar about Kazul’s princess, Cimorene, blaming her for the the “misunderstanding” between the wizards and dragons. Mendanbar at first imagines that Cimorene is much like the scheming princess he met that morning, but soon discovers that she’s anything but. Taking the enchanted sword that only the kings of the Enchanted Forest can use with him, Mendanbar goes to visit the dragons.
At Kazul’s cave, Mendanbar meets Cimorene, who informs him that her official title is now Chief Cook and Librarian. She tells him that part of the point of advertising this title is that it cuts down on the number of princes who come around. Lots of princes want to rescue a princess, but few people want to rescue a Chief Cook and Librarian. Mendanbar finds Cimorene a surprising change from the other princesses he’s met. Mendanbar also makes a positive impression on Cimorene by using his sword to fix a broken sink, even if she describes the magic as being a bit “flashy.”
However, all is not well among the dragons. Although Cimorene is reluctant to admit it at first, Kazul has mysteriously vanished. She was planning to go out and search before Mendanbar showed up. Kazul had been visiting her grandchildren when she decided to go by the Enchanted Forest to investigate someone growing dragonsbane. Mendanbar shows Cimorene the dragon scales he found, and she indentifies them as belonging to Woraug, a dragon who was changed into a frog in the previous book.
It doesn’t take the two of them long to realize that the wizards are back to their old tricks and scheming. However, what would they really have to gain by setting the Enchanted Forest and the dragons against each other? And where is Kazul?
Like the other books in this series, this book is full of humor and a touch of mystery. There are many parodies on fairy tale tropes, including an Wicked Uncle who’s not very wicked and does both a favor and an evil deed for his nephew by sending him to boarding school instead of abandoning him in the forest to have an adventure, as he’d hoped. There is also romance between Cimorene and Mendanbar. As you might have guessed, Cimorene is just the kind of practical princess Mendanbar needs to help him manage the magical chaos that is the Enchanted Forest and Mendanbar is the kind of king who is happy to find an intelligent princess who can do magic and rescue dragons.
The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.