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How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero's Guide to the Real Middle Ages

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Grab your magical sword and take the place of your favorite fantasy character with this fun and historically accurate how-to guide to solving epic quests. What should you ask a magic mirror? How do you outwit a genie? Where should you dig for buried treasure? Fantasy media’s favorite clichés get new life from How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero’s Guide to the Real Middle A Grab your magical sword and take the place of your favorite fantasy character with this fun and historically accurate how-to guide to solving epic quests. What should you ask a magic mirror? How do you outwit a genie? Where should you dig for buried treasure? Fantasy media’s favorite clichés get new life from How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero’s Guide to the Real Middle Ages, a historically accurate romp through the medieval world. Each entry presents a trope from video games, books, movies, or TV—such as saving the princess or training a wizard—as a problem for you to solve, as if you were the hero of your own fantasy quest. Through facts sourced from a rich foundation of medieval sources, you will learn how your magical problems were solved by people in the actual Middle Ages. Divided into thematic subsections based on typical stages in a fantastical epic, and inclusive of race, gender, and continent, How to Slay a Dragon is perfect if you’re curious to learn more about the time period that inspired some of your favorite magical worlds or longing to know what it would be like to be the hero of your own mythical adventure.


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Grab your magical sword and take the place of your favorite fantasy character with this fun and historically accurate how-to guide to solving epic quests. What should you ask a magic mirror? How do you outwit a genie? Where should you dig for buried treasure? Fantasy media’s favorite clichés get new life from How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero’s Guide to the Real Middle A Grab your magical sword and take the place of your favorite fantasy character with this fun and historically accurate how-to guide to solving epic quests. What should you ask a magic mirror? How do you outwit a genie? Where should you dig for buried treasure? Fantasy media’s favorite clichés get new life from How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero’s Guide to the Real Middle Ages, a historically accurate romp through the medieval world. Each entry presents a trope from video games, books, movies, or TV—such as saving the princess or training a wizard—as a problem for you to solve, as if you were the hero of your own fantasy quest. Through facts sourced from a rich foundation of medieval sources, you will learn how your magical problems were solved by people in the actual Middle Ages. Divided into thematic subsections based on typical stages in a fantastical epic, and inclusive of race, gender, and continent, How to Slay a Dragon is perfect if you’re curious to learn more about the time period that inspired some of your favorite magical worlds or longing to know what it would be like to be the hero of your own mythical adventure.

30 review for How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero's Guide to the Real Middle Ages

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nataliya

    If your book is titled How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero's Guide to the Real Middle Ages, it pretty much guarantees that I will read it. I absolutely loved Ian Mortimer’s popular history series The Time Traveler’s Guide giving “regular life” historical information told with a bit of humor. I also love deconstruction of fantasy tropes. And Stevenson - who does not only hold a PhD in medieval history making her knowledge respectable, but overall seems like a fun person really passionate about m If your book is titled How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero's Guide to the Real Middle Ages, it pretty much guarantees that I will read it. I absolutely loved Ian Mortimer’s popular history series The Time Traveler’s Guide giving “regular life” historical information told with a bit of humor. I also love deconstruction of fantasy tropes. And Stevenson - who does not only hold a PhD in medieval history making her knowledge respectable, but overall seems like a fun person really passionate about medieval history - certainly goes out of her way to make sure that her book is enjoyable to the readers. And yes, the book is funny and light and easy to read - but there’s a “but”. It pains me to admit that there are times when there is such a thing as too much irreverent snark and awkward zaniness. (And even such a thing as an overload of parentheticals.) I am not a stranger to this style; I tend to rely on it myself in my reviews, but when spread over the length of the entire book rather than a blog post or an article it becomes a bit too tiresome and forced. “Public toilets meant dealing with weather, inconvenience, and the public. Ergo, private toilets. Private toilets were expensive; ergo, chamber pots. Chamber pots; ergo, emptying chamber pots. Emptying chamber pots; ergo, windows. If you decide to travel as a pilgrim, be absolutely sure to grab your wide-brimmed hat.” Here’s another thing: it’s trying to do too much in too little of space. By really trying to include a lot of material and expanding geography to Europe, Middle East and parts of Africa it becomes a bit too scattered, lacks cohesion, and sacrifices information depth in favor of its amount. The anecdotes, while sometimes amusing, were a bit too light on actual information, a bit bare-bones — and had I not recently reread Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, I would not have had enough information to actually envision things discussed beyond the bare basics. All these anecdotes not only make the book seem quite scattered and meandering, but also often do not provide answers to the questions Stevenson poses, serving as almost tangential illustrations. It seems to me that she has such a wealth of anecdotes and trivia stemming from her significant knowledge of and passion for the Middle Ages that she just wants to cram them all in this book and then try to make them fit some sort of a structure. Not to mention that the supposed blend of real history and fantastical hero’s quest does not work well as a framing device, despite its seeming brilliance. The examples often feel shoehorned into the narrative framework and the chapter theme, which can be a bit irritating as it more often than not involves more than tenuous connections to the topic supposedly discussed. But this book can certainly work as a light and entertaining source of anecdotes and trivia that can provide fodder for random water cooler chats, of the “Hey, did you know that in the Middle Ages…?” variety: “In fourteenth-century London, the smallest amount of ale you could generally buy was a quart. Not a cup, not a pint—a quart. Further, innkeepers were legally required to lock the doors of their inns at night: no one in, no one out. These policies were not at all related.” “[…] we’ll just say that the increasingly shrill pressure on governments in the sixteenth century to close Western European bathhouses coincided with the spread of syphilis.” It’s readable, often funny — but a bit-all-over-the-place disjointed, and despite the wealth of anecdotes a bit too light on historical information. I’d recommend Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century and The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England instead, or at least as sources of historical information prior to reading this book. 2.5 stars as I found my attention wander quite a bit and immediately after finishing this book all I can recall is that it has a smattering of sometimes amusing anecdotes. ————— I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. —————

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Louise

    So, you're the chosen one and it's the middle ages. Not just medieval flavored. But actual medieval period. What can you do? Who are the counterparts you can relate to? Where can you go for help? Because, look, you're not gonna slay the Dragon all by yourself without knowing what you're getting into. That's how you end up eaten... or worse. Thankfully there's a book to help you along. This book cleverly titled "How to Slay a Dragon." Convenient! -- How to Slay a Dragon is a historical romp through So, you're the chosen one and it's the middle ages. Not just medieval flavored. But actual medieval period. What can you do? Who are the counterparts you can relate to? Where can you go for help? Because, look, you're not gonna slay the Dragon all by yourself without knowing what you're getting into. That's how you end up eaten... or worse. Thankfully there's a book to help you along. This book cleverly titled "How to Slay a Dragon." Convenient! -- How to Slay a Dragon is a historical romp through a lot of the high fantasy tropes. The book takes a trope and then finds a historical analogue for said trope. For instance, in the section on how not to marry a prince, the book uses hagiography of several saints to prove their points. The book has a bit of a tongue-in-cheek presentation that both works for it and against it. How so? Well, in the pro column, the book is readable -- always important... but it's often a little too readable, in an odd way. The writing and history is dumbed down and summarized so much that the point can get muddled or lost. And because the book is so tongue-in-cheek there isn't a lot of analysis about why the example given is a relevant to the particular trope. I also had issues with the layout/format. Things didn't seem to flow logically and weren't presented in an order that made sense to me. I fully admit the author knows their stuff and is passionate about the subject, but I'm not sure they laid it out in the best way. I do appreciate that the author states up front what they consider the Middle Ages... because that can vary from scholar to scholar. And I also appreciated that while this was a mostly Eurocentric look at the Middle Ages in included sources from Jewish and Islamic Scholars and histories. So I'm torn. I liked aspects of this book, and I didn't like others. There's some good info here, but it's sometimes hard to find. It's both a little too hard and a little too easy to read and I'm struggling to think of who the right audience is for this. So because of that I give this: Three Stars I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley

  3. 4 out of 5

    Christine Sandquist

    I enjoyed this one a lot! I'll definitely be directing folks to this when they talk about fantasy not being "realistic" in the future. I enjoyed this one a lot! I'll definitely be directing folks to this when they talk about fantasy not being "realistic" in the future.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ayah

    Interesting read, but there was just so much sarcasm/snarkiness that was just lost on me and hard to fully comprehend. I felt like I was an outsider to the jokes. It's definitely non-conventional: the book, though technically non-fiction, is narrated in second-person. The narrator is supposedly guiding you, the reader, on how to be a hero in the Middle Ages (which is roughly from 500-1500 A.D.). The "instructions" are given in anecdotal format, meant to answer what a "typical" fantasy hero might Interesting read, but there was just so much sarcasm/snarkiness that was just lost on me and hard to fully comprehend. I felt like I was an outsider to the jokes. It's definitely non-conventional: the book, though technically non-fiction, is narrated in second-person. The narrator is supposedly guiding you, the reader, on how to be a hero in the Middle Ages (which is roughly from 500-1500 A.D.). The "instructions" are given in anecdotal format, meant to answer what a "typical" fantasy hero might wonder about (for example: How to Find the Inn, How to Stay Clean, How to Steal the Crown, and of course, How to Slay a Dragon). Each how-to is answered in one or more anecdotes from the Middle Ages. The anecdotes were interesting, but I feel like sometimes I missed the point of how they were answering the exact question, and I think this has to do with the underlying sarcastic tone. And although the book description and introduction promises to be diverse (advertising Jews, Muslims, and Christians as all part of the vibrant fabric of the Middle Ages) I found that the anecdotes were disappointingly mostly about European Christians. There are a few anecdotes about indigenous pagans (Vikings/Norse), some Muslims, and Jews, but they were rare features and I was expecting more. So in conclusion: there were some interesting anecdotes but overall this book promised too many things that it unfortunately didn't deliver.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Simms

    How to Slay a Dragon bills itself as a fantasy hero's guide to the real middle ages. It really feels like a medievalist fantasy buff with a lot of stories to tell shoehorning them into some kind of fantasy framework. The stories tend to be interesting but the framework can get a little creaky. By that, I mean that the stories she wants to tell often have little relation to the fantasy theme of each chapter. I hate to say it, but sometimes Stevenson isn't a very good storyteller -- she introduces How to Slay a Dragon bills itself as a fantasy hero's guide to the real middle ages. It really feels like a medievalist fantasy buff with a lot of stories to tell shoehorning them into some kind of fantasy framework. The stories tend to be interesting but the framework can get a little creaky. By that, I mean that the stories she wants to tell often have little relation to the fantasy theme of each chapter. I hate to say it, but sometimes Stevenson isn't a very good storyteller -- she introduces extraneous details (or SKIPS what seems like critical information) or takes detours in the story, all of which can obscure the connection between the story and the theme, although in some cases the detour is the only thing that connects the story to the chapter theme. Two examples. First, in the chapter "How to save the princess" there is a subheading of "The princess saves herself." One of the stories here is about Kunigunde, a daughter of the holy Roman emperor who married the duke of Bavaria, and was the subject of rumors (from political enemies of the duke) that the duke had stolen her away and forcibly married her. We get a line about how Kunigunde had her own ideas about a rescue: namely, she didn't need it. Then the story fast forwards twenty-three years, by which point her husband is dead (with no description) and becomes about her exposing a religious charlatan for being a fraud. Second, in the chapter "How to be married to the prince". The first story starts by describing the tendency of monks and nuns to allegorically consider themselves married to Christ (the Prince of Peace), even the men, but then gives an example of an archbishop writing lovey-dovey letters to a male colleague and that being considered normal. Both of these stories are interesting, especially Kunigunde's -- I want to know more about the decades the author skipped! But the degree of non sequitur in each gave me whiplash. For maximum enjoyment of the book, ignore the fantasy hero gimmick and just imagine a historian telling you anecdotes at a party.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mayda (My Book Cafe Life)

    How to slay a dragon by Cait Stevenson was quite an adventure. I loved taking this magical journey. The book reads like a fantasy book, but with accurate historical facts. I was exhausted midway of the journey, learning and “experiencing” life in the medieval ages. I was convinced I wouldn’t survived (ha ha) This is no ordinary history book and doesn’t read like one either. It is an interactive book that transports you back in time.  You embark on an adventurous fantasy journey, with problems to How to slay a dragon by Cait Stevenson was quite an adventure. I loved taking this magical journey. The book reads like a fantasy book, but with accurate historical facts. I was exhausted midway of the journey, learning and “experiencing” life in the medieval ages. I was convinced I wouldn’t survived (ha ha) This is no ordinary history book and doesn’t read like one either. It is an interactive book that transports you back in time.  You embark on an adventurous fantasy journey, with problems to solve and decisions to make based on what you learn throughout the book. You are guided and provided with enriched information of the Middle Ages, as well as examples for you to make conscious decisions that will lead your journey. This book is excellent for history lovers and those reluctant to read them. It will make you think, laugh and question what you might have already known of the Middle Ages. This book was received in exchange for an honest review. It does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nadine Feldman

    If you think reading about history is dry and dull, try this book, which is a raucous romp into medieval times. I chose to read it because the title grabbed me, and I was not disappointed. It's essentially a guidebook into how to survive and function in the middle ages and includes such chapters as How to Not Marry the Prince, How to Flirt with the Barmaid, and How to Defeat the Barbarian Hordes. Often when reading history or watching historical movies, we see the ruling class. Here I felt like If you think reading about history is dry and dull, try this book, which is a raucous romp into medieval times. I chose to read it because the title grabbed me, and I was not disappointed. It's essentially a guidebook into how to survive and function in the middle ages and includes such chapters as How to Not Marry the Prince, How to Flirt with the Barmaid, and How to Defeat the Barbarian Hordes. Often when reading history or watching historical movies, we see the ruling class. Here I felt like I was learning more about "regular folk," which I find fascinating. I did find myself getting a bit worn out by the end, but I don't think that's the fault of the book. I think the author does a wonderful job of entertaining and informing. The medieval period just isn't my favorite in history. Still, I found myself laughing out loud...and I learned a few things along the way.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Hulttio

    Having enjoyed and followed the author’s responses over on AskHistorians, I was excited to hear that Stevenson had published a book as well. Though I didn’t formally study the medieval period, it’s adjacent to what I did study, and is nevertheless a deeply fascinating and interesting period of time. People don’t give it enough credit. As a fantasy reader, I also like how medieval elements and tropes often find their way into the narrative—and as Stevenson points out in this book, often times ina Having enjoyed and followed the author’s responses over on AskHistorians, I was excited to hear that Stevenson had published a book as well. Though I didn’t formally study the medieval period, it’s adjacent to what I did study, and is nevertheless a deeply fascinating and interesting period of time. People don’t give it enough credit. As a fantasy reader, I also like how medieval elements and tropes often find their way into the narrative—and as Stevenson points out in this book, often times inaccurately. Sometimes the medieval period was even wackier than you’d expect, wackier than any fantasy novel. Imagine that. This book was short and a quick, enjoyable read. I found myself laughing out loud a few times and not wanting to go to sleep because of how interesting it was. I had several tabs open looking up figures or concepts that were mentioned in the book. Suffice it to say, it engrossed me. Stevenson’s writing style is casual, relatable, and amusing. This might not work for everyone—but after a long while of reading dense, academic texts, this humorous and palatable style was exactly up my alley. True, Stevenson does tend to name drop certain events or historical figures and leave a few empty threads here and there, but the nature of the book is such that it is more of an anthology of medieval tropes and events, not a strict narrative nor deep dive into any one topic. Consequently, it’s a great place to dip your toes in if you know little to nothing about medieval history, or even if you do—just don’t expect a deep breadth of research to be dropped into your lap for you. I enjoy looking things up and reading secondary sources on my own time, so I don’t fault the book for this. The framing of the book could have been done better, I agree. The ‘fantasy hero’ shtick is ultimately irrelevant and not too convincing, but perhaps it is more of a marketing or situational thing to immerse the reader in the medieval world… personally I felt that even without this element, the immersion wouldn’t have been lacking. People have been the same for eons, medieval or not. I also appreciated Stevenson’s particular interests in figures such as Mechthild of Magdeburg, whose name I surely will not forget, or referencing particular saints several times. I could almost feel myself on the periphery of the medieval world. It made me want to go to play Kingdom Come: Deliverance again. If you’re a fantasy fan, or a medieval history fan, this book will have something for you—at the very least, it’s a quick read with plenty of levity.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Niko'sBookReviews

    Not a bad book, but definitely not what it purports to be. 2.5 Stars. I received an eARC from NetGalley for this book. How to Slay a Dragon is advertised as a historically accurate look at the base question of "How do you be a Fantasy Hero in the middle ages?" While the book is set up with sections that are titled to follow this theme, the reality is very different. There really isn't much of a narrative structure to any of the sections, but instead various historical anecdotes of varying degree Not a bad book, but definitely not what it purports to be. 2.5 Stars. I received an eARC from NetGalley for this book. How to Slay a Dragon is advertised as a historically accurate look at the base question of "How do you be a Fantasy Hero in the middle ages?" While the book is set up with sections that are titled to follow this theme, the reality is very different. There really isn't much of a narrative structure to any of the sections, but instead various historical anecdotes of varying degrees of relation to the topic of each chapter. Often times the anecdotes (while some may be interesting) do not come even close to answering the questions posed. There is definitely some enjoyment in reading the frenetic ramblings of a passionate historian, but what this book is really missing is any sense of cohesion. There are many interesting (and some less interesting) stories told, but it's such a mish-mash of random anecdotes that nothing ever really comes together. I can tell that Cait Stevenson is passionate about this area as well as extremely knowledgeable, but I think this really could have benefitted by being co-authored by someone with a bit more experience in storytelling, or at least going through an experienced editor. Instead of getting the jovial romp discussing how you might accomplish the many Fantasy story tropes in the real world Middle Ages, we end up getting what, as aforementioned, really comes off as rambling. I would love to have a conversation over drinks with the author and just sit and listen to the stories she's telling, but in a book format it left quite a lot to be desired.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Donna Bull

    Thoroughly enjoyable, funny, and I learned things!!! If you are an epic fantasy fan and wanted to know more about what the Middle Ages were really like, this is the book for you!! And all the information and anecdotes are presented in such an easy to understand and quite funny way in some cases that it's just wonderful to read. So many different stories from different regions focusing on all the parts of an epic fantasy quest. From inns and how they really functioned, how many people really coul Thoroughly enjoyable, funny, and I learned things!!! If you are an epic fantasy fan and wanted to know more about what the Middle Ages were really like, this is the book for you!! And all the information and anecdotes are presented in such an easy to understand and quite funny way in some cases that it's just wonderful to read. So many different stories from different regions focusing on all the parts of an epic fantasy quest. From inns and how they really functioned, how many people really could read, what clothes should you wear, and public toilets in London....yes and now I know!! And the automata of the Medieval Muslim rulers is just mind blowing and how did I never know this?? This book really does have wonderful information, stories about real people who did some of these real things and I enjoyed every moment of the book!! 3.75/4 ARC provided by Tiller Books and NetGalley

  11. 5 out of 5

    Todd

    I won this book through a goodreads giveaway. An interesting and light look at a bit of history through the lens of a number of fantasy tropes. I wasn’t sure what to expect based on the title, though that’s what caught my eye. I can certainly see what the author was going for, and I think she largely succeeded. The book seems geared more towards folks looking for a very light but entertaining introduction to various aspects of history told in a very scattershot sort of way, with little bits of t I won this book through a goodreads giveaway. An interesting and light look at a bit of history through the lens of a number of fantasy tropes. I wasn’t sure what to expect based on the title, though that’s what caught my eye. I can certainly see what the author was going for, and I think she largely succeeded. The book seems geared more towards folks looking for a very light but entertaining introduction to various aspects of history told in a very scattershot sort of way, with little bits of this and that grouped thematically around questions derived from fantasy literature. I think I would have preferred something with a little more focus and substance, but that would have been a very different book. This one was more light hearted, trying to educate while also entertaining, and not overloading you with too many details. If that’s what you’re looking for this might work well for you.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David Montgomery

    This book is a fun collection of odd and bizarre medieval anecdotes about necromancers, sewage, princesses, power struggles and more, laden with jokes. Unfortunately the framing device of a "fantasy hero's guide" often has an awkward fit to the content. The section headers, framed around various fantasy novel tropes like "How to slay a dragon," often serve as little more than prompts for collections of loosely related anecdotes. All these anecdotes are amusing and interesting, of course. But the This book is a fun collection of odd and bizarre medieval anecdotes about necromancers, sewage, princesses, power struggles and more, laden with jokes. Unfortunately the framing device of a "fantasy hero's guide" often has an awkward fit to the content. The section headers, framed around various fantasy novel tropes like "How to slay a dragon," often serve as little more than prompts for collections of loosely related anecdotes. All these anecdotes are amusing and interesting, of course. But the framing device raised my expectations that this book would be, well, an interesting guide to how the medieval world really worked." There are some sections that get close to this, but many of them are too focused on one or two fun stories instead of providing a broad comparative cross-section of how, say, medieval inns worked. That's not to take away from the actual content, all of which was fun to read and educational. But the framing device raised expectations that the content too seldom met. Recommended for anyone interested in delving a little deeper beyond fantasy tropes, but go in with expectations of light educational entertainment.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bobby Dee

    Fans of fantasy fiction are also fans of history. Worlds like Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS and Robert E. Howard's CONAN THE CIMMERIAN are placed in settings that are "quasi-medieval," borrowing aspects and aesthetics of medieval Europe, taking inspiration from medieval European literature, songs, poetry, clothing, arms, and armor. Renaissance festivals and Societies for Creative Anachronism have grown up, out of a mutual love of history and fantasy, of learning and play. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS an Fans of fantasy fiction are also fans of history. Worlds like Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS and Robert E. Howard's CONAN THE CIMMERIAN are placed in settings that are "quasi-medieval," borrowing aspects and aesthetics of medieval Europe, taking inspiration from medieval European literature, songs, poetry, clothing, arms, and armor. Renaissance festivals and Societies for Creative Anachronism have grown up, out of a mutual love of history and fantasy, of learning and play. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS and other roleplaying game push that worldbuilding even further...and at some point, a fan asked an actual history scholar: did medieval rulers ever make plans for dealing with a dragon attacking their castle? That's the starting point for this book. It's a playful deconstruction and analysis of the historical reality behind many of the tropes of the fantasy adventurer in a quasi-medieval setting. Tolkien has magic swords...did Europe? If I was an adventurer in medieval Europe, how do I get one? Do I really meet someone at the inn? Why the inn? The tone is erudite but approachable. Dr. Stevenson knows her material inside and out, and better than that, she knows how to address a topic to the average reader without talking down to them. This is the kind of book any fantasy fan, D&D player, or history buff can pick up and get into right away. She takes you step-by-step from the beginning of the quest to the end...and maybe along the way you'll pick up a greater appreciation for what medieval life was really like, what kind of obstacles your adventurer might encounter on their next journey, and where to go next when you want to dig a little deeper into the medieval sources at the roots of your favorite fantasy novel or roleplaying game.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julia Pika

    Thanks to NetGalley & Tiller Press for the early copy in exchange for an honest review. Sadly, DNF at 20%. It's not a bad book by any means, it's well written but I think this is just not for me. There's a lot of stories/analogies that don't really get to any point and just meander for a bit that I found tedious. Probably just not a book for me though. Thanks to NetGalley & Tiller Press for the early copy in exchange for an honest review. Sadly, DNF at 20%. It's not a bad book by any means, it's well written but I think this is just not for me. There's a lot of stories/analogies that don't really get to any point and just meander for a bit that I found tedious. Probably just not a book for me though.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    How to Slay a Dragon by Cait Stevenson is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early August. This book places readers in fairy tales or RPG situations/settings into the as-close-to-realistic-as-possible medieval European (plus nods to Arab countries) Middle Ages, i.e. setting the stage, assessing the goings-on, and outlining your survival rate. Its gorgeous detailed sketches with tapestry-like borders do well to highlight the liberal open worlds to explore (within reason) and being able to becom How to Slay a Dragon by Cait Stevenson is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early August. This book places readers in fairy tales or RPG situations/settings into the as-close-to-realistic-as-possible medieval European (plus nods to Arab countries) Middle Ages, i.e. setting the stage, assessing the goings-on, and outlining your survival rate. Its gorgeous detailed sketches with tapestry-like borders do well to highlight the liberal open worlds to explore (within reason) and being able to become whoever you please with the Stevenson's easy, embodying, second-person narrative and keen wit to guide you and advice on real-life historical events to caution you.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with and ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I really enjoy learning about everyday life from before the 1600's plus I enjoy Skyrim and fantasy novels set in the Middle Ages, so I was pretty excited to read this nonfiction book that combines my love for all of those things. I really enjoyed all the stories Stevenson told in this book, but I'm not sure it had the effect Stevenson was going for. The chapter and section heading Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with and ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I really enjoy learning about everyday life from before the 1600's plus I enjoy Skyrim and fantasy novels set in the Middle Ages, so I was pretty excited to read this nonfiction book that combines my love for all of those things. I really enjoyed all the stories Stevenson told in this book, but I'm not sure it had the effect Stevenson was going for. The chapter and section headings didn't seem to always fit well together and it made the information a bit all over the place to me. I haven't read a whole lot of nonfiction since college, so maybe it's just my inexperience in the genre. But I still enjoyed learning about the Middle Ages and plan on buying a physical copy of this when it's released.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ally Restrepo

    I'm going to be real here, I thought this was a completely different book than it was. I thought it would be a fun fantasy romp through fictional middle ages, but it was a nonfiction history book. Realizing this brought a little bit of the joy I felt when I first read the title away. I do think this was really interesting. Once I got past my initial disappointment, I read this fairly quickly over the course of several bus rides. I feel like I learned a lot, although how much of that knowledge I r I'm going to be real here, I thought this was a completely different book than it was. I thought it would be a fun fantasy romp through fictional middle ages, but it was a nonfiction history book. Realizing this brought a little bit of the joy I felt when I first read the title away. I do think this was really interesting. Once I got past my initial disappointment, I read this fairly quickly over the course of several bus rides. I feel like I learned a lot, although how much of that knowledge I retained is yet to be seen. Also, the chapter titles are so much fun! I loved that the author made a really good attempt at making the history diverse, although they could have done a lot more. This was an enjoyable read, but not one I would pick up again. I would totally recommend this to any of my friends who are interested in learning about this time period.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marina

    Cait Stevenson attempts to pass on her love of the Middle Ages to her audience in How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero’s Guide to the Real Middle Ages, and for the most part her endeavor is successful! First and foremost, this is not a children’s book no matter how enticing to a child the title may be. Despite the book claiming to be a fun how-to guide for successful epic quests, including, but not limited to, how to slay a dragon, the scholarly historical language would be hard for a child to f Cait Stevenson attempts to pass on her love of the Middle Ages to her audience in How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero’s Guide to the Real Middle Ages, and for the most part her endeavor is successful! First and foremost, this is not a children’s book no matter how enticing to a child the title may be. Despite the book claiming to be a fun how-to guide for successful epic quests, including, but not limited to, how to slay a dragon, the scholarly historical language would be hard for a child to follow. There is also (historically accurate) content that would be inappropriate for children. How to Slay a Dragon is very humorous in that Stevenson uses internet slang and modern abbreviations/acronyms to describe history. The juxtaposition of modern language against the Middle Ages content and the dry wit and outright sarcasm throughout the tone of the book is very comedic. Basically, Stevenson pokes fun at medieval thinking viewed through modern knowledge while also giving real solutions to the trials of a hero’s quest. Although, Stevenson does tend to take sidebars and go on tangents, which can be hard to follow at times. Circling back to the scholarly language: Stevenson clearly has vast knowledge of the Middle Ages, as evidenced by her PhD in medieval history from the University of Notre Dame, but I found there to be many instances of the points of her medieval anecdotes to go over my head as someone with only an undergrad minor in European area studies, if you catch my meaning? Furthermore, if you’re not a history buff, some of Stevenson’s allusions to fairly commonly known historical events could be lost on you, and you may end up googling instead of reading. All in all, I give How to Slay a Dragon four stars for seamlessly blending entertainment and education in a humorous manner, but sometimes not quite correlating significance with story.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I really loved the idea of this book. I love medieval history, and especially social history, so I was hoping that this would feature information about the practicalities of how people lived that I didn't know. And in some ways it delivered on that: I learned about the physical landscape of the road and the different kinds of inns. But it felt more like a stream of facts than a cohesive guide to the period. I think part of this st I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I really loved the idea of this book. I love medieval history, and especially social history, so I was hoping that this would feature information about the practicalities of how people lived that I didn't know. And in some ways it delivered on that: I learned about the physical landscape of the road and the different kinds of inns. But it felt more like a stream of facts than a cohesive guide to the period. I think part of this stems from trying to write a guide to how a fantasy medieval adventurer would survive, without giving a more firm context on where and when specifically we're talking about. There was a great section about the geography of the medieval world, but after the vastness of the area was explained, it was kind of just left there. And then when we hear about various facets of life, that geographical context is dropped. I was never sure where exactly I was. It also ended up feeling like a lot of stories the author wanted to tell were shoehorned in. For instance, there's a section where a curfew is explained and then a quote given from a person who mentioned a curfew. That additional quote didn't add to my understanding. I enjoyed some of the things I learned, but overall this just wasn't the book for me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    They say never judge a book by the cover, but I knew I had to get my hands on this the second I saw that dragon. Luckily for me, what continued within lived up to the hype of the tagline; that it's a "fantasy hero's guide to the real Middle Ages." Thinking of my personal interests, I may perhaps be the perfect reader for this book. I devour a ton of fantasy. I'm well versed in many of the tropes that inhabit those worlds, and I have a deep love of history. Especially those dang Middle Ages, where They say never judge a book by the cover, but I knew I had to get my hands on this the second I saw that dragon. Luckily for me, what continued within lived up to the hype of the tagline; that it's a "fantasy hero's guide to the real Middle Ages." Thinking of my personal interests, I may perhaps be the perfect reader for this book. I devour a ton of fantasy. I'm well versed in many of the tropes that inhabit those worlds, and I have a deep love of history. Especially those dang Middle Ages, where most fantasy book worlds love to take inspiration from. Author and historian Cait Stevenson has compiled a hilarious account of real Middle Ages history that fit neatly into many fantasy genre tropes. The book is beautifully laid out, with gorgeous chapter illustrations and exceptional font choices. You can tell a ton of care went into the design. At the moment I have a digital copy, but I've already pre-ordered the physical book, which will be a fierce addition to my bookshelf. I've dipped my toe in the humorous history book world before, but "How to Slay a Dragon" really is a take unlike any other I've seen. Stevenson has such a unique voice and a deft hand; able to present dense information that even the history haters will find tempting. Perhaps my favorite thing about this one was the reader's role as the hero. This was my chance, my shot, at finally being *THE CHOSEN ONE*... if you've ever wondered what it was like to train a wizard, find a unicorn, and feast like a king (all from the context of the true Middle Ages) than "How to Slay a Dragon" is your moment! So go ahead reader, listen to the call from this lady in the lake. Reach out to that bookshelf and claim "How to Slay a Dragon," because your destiny is waiting... Huge thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nyssa Rose

    This was everything I could want. It's exactly as the title says. Basically it takes the famous fantasy concepts you are familiar with such flirting with the barmaid and then answers them pulling from a uniquely medieval perspective (In short, you just don't). What I loved most about this is that it doesn't feel like you are reading historical book. The prose reads as if someone is talking to you, so you don't get bogged down by all the historical facts. There is plenty of humor and name drops th This was everything I could want. It's exactly as the title says. Basically it takes the famous fantasy concepts you are familiar with such flirting with the barmaid and then answers them pulling from a uniquely medieval perspective (In short, you just don't). What I loved most about this is that it doesn't feel like you are reading historical book. The prose reads as if someone is talking to you, so you don't get bogged down by all the historical facts. There is plenty of humor and name drops thrown in that make it an easy read. Also the illustrations provided are works of art. Of course after your done How To Slay A Dragon, you will want to re-read it again or pick up a non-fiction dedicated to one of the many interesting historical figures mentioned. I know I can easily see myself re-reading this one in the near future. Perfect for fans of fantasy, historical fiction and lovers of history (specifically the medieval ages).

  22. 4 out of 5

    TimetoFangirl

    I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I have such mixed emotions about this work, which is not normal for my relationship with nonfiction. Typically I only LOVE fiction, and nonfiction is either "interesting" or "not." This work, however, has traits that make it loveable. "So why the three-star rating Fangirl?" Okay, fair enough. This book is written with a unique premise, the reader is a fairy tale hero from the middle ages and the author is instructing you on how to s I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I have such mixed emotions about this work, which is not normal for my relationship with nonfiction. Typically I only LOVE fiction, and nonfiction is either "interesting" or "not." This work, however, has traits that make it loveable. "So why the three-star rating Fangirl?" Okay, fair enough. This book is written with a unique premise, the reader is a fairy tale hero from the middle ages and the author is instructing you on how to survive and thrive. I've never read nonfiction with this structure and I think, for about the first half of the book, it really worked for me. Unfortunately, it did get a bit tired and I didn't always understand the connection between the reader's stage in their journey and the topic the author wanted to discuss. Hence the three-star rating. Tl;dr = I enjoyed this and it's super informative and unique but it did get old.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Katelyn

    How to Slay a Dragon is perfect for readers who love history and fantasy quests. First off, love the cover, it's perfect for the book. How to Slay a Dragon dives into the history of the middle ages set up a hero's guide. This covers topics such as who you could pick to be your mentor and what you should wear. Since the book covers all of the middle ages, this is more of a cursory overview written in a witty way that makes for a fun take on the time period. Sometimes the book did get bogged down How to Slay a Dragon is perfect for readers who love history and fantasy quests. First off, love the cover, it's perfect for the book. How to Slay a Dragon dives into the history of the middle ages set up a hero's guide. This covers topics such as who you could pick to be your mentor and what you should wear. Since the book covers all of the middle ages, this is more of a cursory overview written in a witty way that makes for a fun take on the time period. Sometimes the book did get bogged down in details and caused me to forget what section I was on, but overall it was a fun way to read about the time period.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Nieto

    I love nonfiction books, especially when they teach me something new about the world. I’ve gotta say, I enjoyed this book and I learned a lot of new, weird things about the Middle Ages. I really wish there was a bit more of the old, storybook style art throughout. I also think there were times where the narrator kind of got off topic in various chapters. But overall, this was a fun read with an entertaining setup. ~I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review~

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hobart

    ★ ★ 1/2 (rounded up) This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader. --- FROM THE BACK OF THE BOOK I tried to come up with my own summary, and it kept coming out like those horrible paraphrases you turned in to your teacher after basically sitting down with an encyclopedia for ten minutes—technically not plagiarism (at least not to a sixth-grader's mind), but not really original work. Instead, let's just see what the back of the book says: Grab your magical sword and take the place of your favor ★ ★ 1/2 (rounded up) This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader. --- FROM THE BACK OF THE BOOK I tried to come up with my own summary, and it kept coming out like those horrible paraphrases you turned in to your teacher after basically sitting down with an encyclopedia for ten minutes—technically not plagiarism (at least not to a sixth-grader's mind), but not really original work. Instead, let's just see what the back of the book says: Grab your magical sword and take the place of your favorite fantasy character with this fun and historically accurate how-to guide to solving epic quests. What should you ask a magic mirror? How do you outwit a genie? Where should you dig for buried treasure? Fantasy media’s favorite clichés get new life from How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero’s Guide to the Real Middle Ages, a historically accurate romp through the medieval world. Each entry presents a trope from video games, books, movies, or TV—such as saving the princess or training a wizard—as a problem for you to solve, as if you were the hero of your own fantasy quest. Through facts sourced from a rich foundation of medieval sources, you will learn how your magical problems were solved by people in the actual Middle Ages. Divided into thematic subsections based on typical stages in a fantastical epic, and inclusive of race, gender, and continent, How to Slay a Dragon is perfect if you’re curious to learn more about the time period that inspired some of your favorite magical worlds or longing to know what it would be like to be the hero of your own mythical adventure. SO, WHAT DID I THINK ABOUT HOW TO SLAY A DRAGON? It's a great concept—fantasy readers (and writers, I assume) are frequently talking about authenticity and if X technology or practice really fits with an era. Or how would you really go about doing Y? We've needed something like this book for years. It's just clever—it's not just about the topics that Stevenson addresses, it's how the topics are dealt with. There's a great deal of wit in the setup and explanation of each one—and the way they flow from subtopic to subtopic. Jumping from person to person, location to location, and so on could seem erratic or jarring, but she makes it feel like it flows naturally. I love her voice—I honestly wish I wrote the way Stevenson does. It's not just the humor, it's the way she approaches an idea. It's the kind of prose that if I decided to get serious about writing that I'd want to study emulate. Yet...this was one of those strange, I can't explain it at all, the whole is less than the sum of its parts reads for me. It impressed me on all fronts, and yet I was bored almost the entire time. Until the last 40 pages or so, I'd eagerly pick it up and dive in, and then my mind would start wandering within a page or so. It absolutely could be just what was going on for me this week, it's likely just me—I fully expect after I post this and look around at what others say that I'm going to see a lot of raving. But I just can't do that. I'm sticking with the 3 stars because of the sum of its parts and because one of the first notes I made was, "if she keeps this up, she's got a lock on 4+ stars." Otherwise, this would be 2 stars. By all means, fill up the comment section with ways I'm wrong about this one.

  26. 5 out of 5

    following fantasies

    Thank you NetGalley and the Publishers/ Author for providing me with an eARC of this title in exchange for my unbiased review. This book sets out to give a historically accurate view of the common themes and tropes often found in fantasy books set in the medieval times. Stevenson gives insight into how you would go about solving these magical problems during the Middle Ages. What would you do on a quest to save the Princess? How would you go about slaying the dragon? Stevenson's wealth of medieva Thank you NetGalley and the Publishers/ Author for providing me with an eARC of this title in exchange for my unbiased review. This book sets out to give a historically accurate view of the common themes and tropes often found in fantasy books set in the medieval times. Stevenson gives insight into how you would go about solving these magical problems during the Middle Ages. What would you do on a quest to save the Princess? How would you go about slaying the dragon? Stevenson's wealth of medieval knowledge really comes across in this book. You can definitely tell she is someone who knows what they are talking about. This book is full of fun little quips about these tropes which makes for an easy and enjoyable quick read. However, due to the light and humorous content in the book you aren't actually going to get a ton of historical information. This is more an entertaining book made up of random anecdotes relating to the ways things were back in the Middle Ages. You get some inclusion of Jewish and Islamic histories along with the mostly European views. For me, the layout of the story felt scattered and kind of all over the place. Sometimes I was left wondering how certain examples pertained to the overall subject at hand. This book is good for people looking for a quick read that will impart random facts about the medieval times. It is also great for people wondering what it would have actually been like to be the hero of their favorite stories. I think even people who often find the topic of history to be a boring one would still enjoy this book. 3💫

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zeki Czen

    Light and not terribly heavy. It's a great surface/popular history book. The framing device used by the author is unique. It looks at modern framing of a "hero and his quest" that you get in pseudo-medieval settings that are so ubiquitous in pop-culture fantasy and the proliferation of D&D and tries to apply that to the reality of the Middle-Ages. It's short and sweet, and well researched. I think I would have liked it to be longer and more in depth on a lot of topics. But it really is fun and I Light and not terribly heavy. It's a great surface/popular history book. The framing device used by the author is unique. It looks at modern framing of a "hero and his quest" that you get in pseudo-medieval settings that are so ubiquitous in pop-culture fantasy and the proliferation of D&D and tries to apply that to the reality of the Middle-Ages. It's short and sweet, and well researched. I think I would have liked it to be longer and more in depth on a lot of topics. But it really is fun and I recommend it

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shane Noble

    What do common tropes of fantasy - monsters, princesses, treasure, sorcery - look like in medieval times? Let Dr. Stevenson take you on a fun, tongue-in-cheek adventure through actual medieval history. This is a quick, exciting read and gets your brain juices flowing with thoughts of building your own stories and RPG undertakings. There is also a solid list of suggested reading for a more in-depth look at these wild (but true!) stories. Highly recommended.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Feeck

    A conversational overview of life in medieval times, filled with facts and humor. Although this is non-fiction, each section is framed as quest advice (Can you flirt with the barmaid, how to win a bar fight, etc), covering everything from demographics to sewer systems to patterns of the spice trade. I liked how this books takes time to both debunk common misconceptions as well as present more obscure anecdotes. **Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC**

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I won this book on Goodreads through the FirstReads giveaways. I got this because I liked the cover and I like history, and I thought it might be a good resource to add detail to D&D campaigns. The book makes medieval history accessible and funny. Some things I already knew, but there were some that surprised me: for example, Mary, mother of god, was called the Empress of Hell and was like a superhero. If you are interested in history, it's worth a read. I won this book on Goodreads through the FirstReads giveaways. I got this because I liked the cover and I like history, and I thought it might be a good resource to add detail to D&D campaigns. The book makes medieval history accessible and funny. Some things I already knew, but there were some that surprised me: for example, Mary, mother of god, was called the Empress of Hell and was like a superhero. If you are interested in history, it's worth a read.

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