Stephanie Burgis became an auto-buy author for me because I know I can always count on her books to be both well written and the among the best of whatever fantasy angle and age category it falls in. Her newest release, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, is a perfect example of this.
Aventurine is a young dragon who has yet to find her passion in life. All dragons have them. Her brother studies philosophy. Her sister is an oh so perfect epic poet. Adventurine doesn't want to study books and she doesn't want to stay safe inside her family's mountain. Knowing she is old enough and just needs to prove herself, she sneaks out of her mountain. In doing so she finds her life's passion: Chocolate. Unfortunately for her, the chocolate comes from a human who enchants it. Aventurine finds herself in a human body quite incapable of avenging herself on the Food Mage she was planning to take back to her family as a treat. Alone and forced to find her way in her new state, Aventurine makes her way to the city of Drachenburg where she manages to force her way into an apprenticeship at a chocolate house. As she learns the ins and outs of working with her passion, she also learns a lot about humans. When her family come to the city, and both the dragons and humans she loves are threatened, Aventurine must find a way to save both and learn how to balance her two natures.
Aventurine is the best. She is determined, stubborn, brave, and reckless. As a dragon, she is loved, sheltered, and adored. As a human, she has to learn to survive, make allies, and navigate a strange world of feelings. It is no small feat to write a well developed and rounded personality of a single species. That Aventurine is very much a dragon and very much a human at the same time is a marvel. At times her dual natures are in conflict. Watching her find her way as a human, is a fascinating study in nature and character dynamics. I enjoyed how much of a dragon she remained. I read for pages getting used to thinking of her as a girl and suddenly there would be a line like: "I just wished that all the horses I passed didn't look so delicious." It is delightful. The way Aventurine boldly finds her way in life is wonderful too, but I love that there was a flip side of this. As a dragon, she did something reckless and paid a high price for it. As a human, she makes mistakes too and learns how her actions as both dragon and human affect all those who love her. (And eventually the whole city of Drachenburg.)
Joining Adventurine, is a wonderful cast of supporting characters in a novel that is packed full of girl power. Silke is a savvy city girl who takes Aventurine under wing when she is newly arrived in the city. The girls develop a business partnership based on mutual respect that blossoms into a great friendship. Marina is the prickly, artistic, driven yet recovering from a failure she finds difficult to move on from mistress of the chocolate house Aventurine works at. Aventurine and Marina learn mutual respect and assist each other in facing down their fears and achieving their goals.
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart will appeal to those who love fantasy and magic. It is a comforting sort of read (at least for me) that was reminiscent of the Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. It had the same sort of humor mixed with empowerment. I think this novel will appeal to a slightly younger audience, but is certainly for people of all ages.
Warning: Have chocolate on hand. You will want it.
I read a copy made available by the publisher, Bloomsbury Children's US, at ALA Midwinter. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart goes on sale May 30th.