The Handbook for
Tilda is a princess who was born with a club foot, and some of the people in her village (and even in her household) believe she is cursed and brings bad luck. Understandably, this becomes tiresome, especially on top of the discomfort of walking and the daily responsibilities of being a princess. One responsibility is copying texts, a laborious process requiring some skill. Tilda dreams of having time to write her own book, without interruptions, when suddenly her whole life is interrupted by a would-be usurper. Could this unexpected adventure be Tilda's way to escape from a predictable life of duty?
This is a delightful story, in that it is markedly different from what readers might originally expect. Tilda grows a lot over the course of the book, but the reader is invited to re-shape expectations, too, without too much heavy-handedness. There is a lot going on in this magical world - the Wild Hunt with magical horses and demon beings, spellcasters, and, of course, dragons. Some of these elements work a little too conveniently for the plot's needs, and as such, feel extraneous - either neglected or under-developed. However, this is generally forgivable because the plot trajectory is not obvious, and because the modern sensibilities within the long-long-ago fantasy setting are so relatable. Readers looking for genuinely strong female characters will find Tilda appealing, from her dislike of rule-following advisors to the navigation of friendship with her lifelong handmaid, who is shown to have her own desires and opinions. Best of all, Tilda's fatigue of feeling different is an element that connects most readers to this story. and yet it is not her dominant quality.
Although lengthy, the content is a good fit for upper elementary; a good recommendation for readers who are a little bit young to access Shannon Hale's fantasies.
"It's just that I have copied manuscripts, and have spent time with monks who have copied their whole lives. I have made mistakes, and I have seen mistakes, and I have copied things that make no sense, and I do not believe that writing things down makes a lie or a mistake any truer than if it was just spoken."
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