Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George

Jessica Day George lives in Salt Lake City; she attended Brigham Young University and has a degree in humanities and comparative literature. She’s also associated with a husband, pill a son, pills and a five-pound Maltese named Pippin who appears as a character in this book. She says that her entire life has revolved around books — although she has studied significant amounts of foreign languages (eight years of German and four of Old Norse, buy to read the old sagas in the original language) and knits, plays viola and piano, and even took a class in pottery, all of it and all of her jobs was just to fill in the time while she wasn’t actively writing, reading, or waiting to be published.

Dragon Slippers starts with a common trope, at least after Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons: the maiden given to a dragon on purpose so that someone will rescue her. And, as is common with that trope, the maiden (Creel) rescues herself — in that way where the dragon didn’t want to eat her anyway. The dragon gives her a pair of shoes out of his collection, and Creel goes off to King’s Seat, the capital (obviously), to try to ply her trade of sewing and embroidery. On the way she meets a dragon named Shandas, and they become friends. Once she’s in the city, she gets a job at an impressive shop, but makes an enemy in the foreign princess who is to marry the crown prince. How will that work out?

Creel is resourceful and talented, and as a narrator, she kept my interest, was fairly reliable, and was observant enough for my tastes. Most of the other characters were flat as a board, though. While I understand that it’s a short and rather uncomplicated book, I kept hoping for perhaps a little more from some of the characters. The younger prince was moderately interesting and some of the other characters had a bit more depth towards the end, but even the dragons were one-note songs. The setting was not exactly wildly original, either, and the ideas (the dragon slippers of the title) in the book weren’t all that ground-breaking either. As to the idea of a young woman working in a shop like this, it was handled better in Phoenix Dance; the dynamics were very similar even though it was a shoe shop and not a dress shop. The dragon thing obviously was better in Ms. Wrede’s works, and evil foreign princesses are a dime a dozen.

A few things actually bothered me about this book, rather than merely leaving me unmoved, and one of them was the dragon’s name. ‘Shandas’ is Yiddish for ‘shame’ or ’embarrassment,’ and can be used as a noun. (“He is such a shandas.”) Obviously fantasy writers can’t check every single name they use in every single other language to make sure that it doesn’t actually mean something, and it’s also possible that Ms. George intended this double meaning, but, uh, I don’t exactly see it. For the few other fantasy readers in existence who know any Yiddish (and I only know the word because a friend of mine used it a couple months ago), this might be a little bit disconcerting. I also felt that the language used in the book was dangerously close to slang — 20th-century slang. I was sort of on edge, expecting Creel and her fellow characters to call something “Cool!” or to say, “That’s so awesome!” They didn’t, but the book had that feeling. While this may be appealing to some readers, it wasn’t to me.

Overall, I did enjoy reading the book while I was in the story and the world, but my overwhelming feeling upon finishing it was, “Haven’t I read this already?” Whereas Ms. George’s fellow Utahan author Shannon Hale (whose Goose Girl is referenced in the text) managed to take old stories and make them absolutely fresh and new, I felt that Ms. George was retreading a lot of old territory and did it with less humor, less style, and less wit than the originals. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to read the book, but if one is expecting a fresh story with witty characters and a compelling plot, one isn’t going to find that here. It’s a pleasant way to while away a few hours, but ultimately I’d say skip it and read the aforementioned Dealing with Dragons and its sequels instead. 3/5 stars.

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