Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
In this sequel to Dealing with Dragons, Cimorene has to find and save Kazul, the king of the dragons, who has been kidnapped. (It’s the wizards again, of course.) Along the way, she meets Mendanbar, King of the Enchanted Forest, who assists in her quest. He has a magic sword. Predictably, they fall in love, but I found the relationship charming and modern and not overly mushy.
One of my favorite subplots concerned a couple people who were sort of filling the roles of villains, but weren’t really villainous at all. A descendent of Rumplestiltskin has accumulated several children through the family spinning business–and he genuinely cares for them until they return to their parents as triumphant young adults on quests. An uncle feels pressured to do something wicked to his nephew to remain in good standing for his club, but he really likes the boy. Cimorene and Mendanbar tell Rumplestiltskin’s great-grandson to open a school for all those children, and advise the uncle to send his nephew there. This just seemed like such a sweet, optimistic view of the world, that people might be able to twist and bend the rules creatively to play the outward role of a villain when they have to, while still remaining true to their hearts and even doing good work for others.