There are times when we are blessed to meet greatness.
What had happened was … (yes, there’s a story here. Hang with me and then I’ll get into the book review)
… I was honored to serve as part of the book review team for Urban Fantasy Magazine for a while and during that period had an opportunity to work with Stephanie Burgis. As the magazine leadership made changes to the format, the review process changed and I moved on. At the time, Stephanie was pulling back as she indicated she was working on a couple of manuscripts; I think she was finishing Masks and Shadows. As we are connected on social media, I caught wind later that she was on to a new adventure called The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart. As I read that it had been published I knew I had to have my very own copy.
It did not disappoint.
And I realized that my humble colleague, who tolerated me as we reviewed all sorts of books, was a magnificent writer as well (I knew that from the calibre of her reviews, but you know what I mean …).
You know that moment when the conclusion of a book makes you shed a tear? Yeah, that.
Firstly, it was a great story. Secondly, I was sorry it had finished. Thirdly, I struggled to wait for a sequel (hint, hint, Stephanie!).
Protagonist Aventurine (don’t you just love that name?!) is a young dragon, nearly tortured to bits by the likes of her elder siblings. Her sister Citrine is a poet and her brother Jasper is a budding philosopher. Mother and Grandfather, ancient dragons, do their best to keep Aventurine safe until her scales harden and she can learn how to be a proper dragon.
Like those of us for whom waiting is not something we do well, Aventurine takes it upon herself to speed up the process.
With exhilaration flooding through me, I folded my wings tightly against my sides and lunged for the outside world and freedom.
It was harder than I’d expected to squeeze out of the hole … Finally, finally, I forced myself free with an explosive pop! It sent me tumbling on to the ground outside … and whimpering with pain. My folded wings had scraped so hard against the rough, craggy edges of the rocks that there were ragged tears, now, in my silver and crimson scales. (p. 7)
So begins Aventurine’s new life outside the safety of her family’s cavern. However, when she discovers a food mage and chocolate, her world changes forever. The mage turns Aventurine into one of the worst beings possible: a human. Her beautiful scales become the cloth that covers her frail form and she is forced to fend for herself in a community of beings that not too long ago were a food source.
But her attraction to chocolate drives her dream. Her refusal to quit enables her to escape the clutches of Greta, a selfish townswoman bent on securing free labor so she can live like a noblewoman and through a twist of fate secures a position as an apprentice in (you guessed it!) a chocolate house.
‘I don’t care what your name is. You’re not setting to work in my kitchen without food in your belly. Hunger leads to distraction, which leads to carelessness — and you’d better learn right now that I don’t tolerate carelessness in my chocolate house, not now, not ever. So …’ She scooped up one of the glasses full of sweet-smelling darkness and handed it to me with a long silver spoon. ‘Here. The people who ordered these ran away liked frightened bunnies five minutes ago. You might as well eat one instead of letting them all go to waste.’
Dragons could go for days without food when they needed to, and I didn’t need to be treated as if I was weak. Still, as the scent drifted up from the glass in my hands, I lost the will to argue. ‘Fine,’ I muttered, and dug in. (p. 84)
Aventurine encounters humans of all sorts — kind, crafty, narcissistic, funny, and most surprising to her and her dragon family, loving. Marina, the chocolatier and her partner, Horst, and Silke, the girl whose handbills save the day show Aventurine that human hoards are worth protecting just as much (if not more!) than dragons. They teach her that she has a special gift and once she manages to harness it, she makes all her dreams come true.
Although targeted to a middle grade audience, The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart is a story for all ages. It is possible to see people we’ve encountered in each of the characters, from Aventurine’s dragon relatives to the king and crown princess.
Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.