Stephanie Burgis, The Princess Who Flew with Dragons

Bloomsbury Children's Books, ISBN 9781526604330

Sofia is a princess with a conscience, who likes nothing better than reading, especially books about philosophy. She's disaster-prone, and her repeated gaffes against royal protocol go down very badly with her domineering older sister Katrin who's been in charge of the kingdom of Drachenheim since their mother died and their father went off the rails. Sofia has none of her sister's ability to conduct affairs of state. Sent on a diplomatic mission to a neighbouring kingdom, the journey a long one in a carriage dangled from a dragon's claw that makes Sofia horribly sick, she fails her task within minutes of arrival. She is mortified, but delighted by the opportunity this gives her to go to Villene University in disguise, and to attend a lecture by her favourite philosopher. Freed from royal restrictions and expectations, she quickly makes friends, mostly with goblins, who introduce her to fascinating experiences. But the philosopher's message is seditious, and she and her new friends are in danger. They are saved thanks to the magic of a blue-skinned kobold called Fedolia, and the flying skills of Jasper, a young dragon and pen-friend of Sofia's. Fedolia is not the ally she seems however, and now they have the Ice Giants to contend with, and they have encased all the heads of state of the continent in ice, including Katrin. Can Sofia outwit these terrifying enemies armed only with philosophy? And even if she does, how will her sister respond when she finds out what Sofia has been up to?

This middle-grade fantasy adventure is fast-moving and exciting. The motif of a princess who hates her royal position is scarcely a new one, but in Sofia Burgis has created an appealing and spirited protagonist. While never being remotely didactic, the book raises valuable questions about loyalty and the meaning of power, the dangers of stereotyping and the benefits of diversity and immigration. Although the third in a series, it works fine as a stand-alone novel.