Aventurine is the fiercest dragon in the mountains. But what happens when such a fierce dragon is tricked into drinking enchanted hot chocolate and becomes… a HUMAN?
With a blurb and cover like that, who could resist a children’s book about dragons and hot chocolate? Inevitably, not this reader, so I picked up Stephanie Burgis’ latest book at work, intrigued. Children’s books aren’t my normal thing, but this one?
The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart is what our American cousins call a middle-grade novel, what we classify at work as a 9-12 book; it’s a slim volume, at 240 pages, but packed full of content and plot. Burgis starts the book with a perfectly ordinary opening, a young girl feeling stifled by her parents’ strictures; of course, this girl is a dragon, the brother she scuffles with a dragon reading philosophy, and her overbearing elder sister a brilliant poet… and dragon. So, rather than escaping from court, or from a hovel, she escapes from a mountain lair, to try and catch prey… but her human prey tricks her into drinking a hot chocolate, that renders her human. Burgis manages to showcase everything great that permeates this novel in these first few chapters…
The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart is absolutely brilliant in its psychology; it really gets into things like the feeling of being stifled as a child, and the terrifying realisation of what one is being protected from; Burgis shows us panic attacks and anxiety and depression in their grim reality, but without making them magical or extraordinary, showing them powerfully and beautifully and horribly as they are; shows us the joy of finding one’s calling; and the wonders of friendship, all vividly portrayed.
The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart is also a very physical novel; that is, it’s deeply invested in physicality, most of all in a sense often neglected, that of smell. Burgis talks about the changing shape of Aventurine’s body in terms of how she interacts with the world, how things seem different sizes and shapes, how balancing and movement are different; she describes a world centred not on sight alone but also heavily on smell, with Aventurine making extensive use of a preternaturally good sense of it; and uses taste beautifully, to the point that reading the book required a hot chocolate just because the descriptions of the taste were so evocative.
The actual plot of The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart isn’t nearly so innovative; it follows a quite traditional structure of children’s books, although it does it very well, with few if any surprises on the way. The beats are played well, and the pace is good, with the whole thing moving at a good clip, lingering a little on some of the more homely scenes but keeping action fast-paced and drudgery slight when present; this isn’t a book to get caught on and stuck in a rut with, it’s a book to keep going through and just read. The characters are similarly expected, from Aventurine herself, via her family, to her found human family; they’re all well-written, but all are somewhat slight, without much depth, with the exception of Marina, who has depths that are only revealed when important to Aventurine.
Of course, that’s arguably to be expected of a children’s book; they’re not intended to be deep character studies, for the most part! The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart is fun, fast-paced, and an exercise in impressively physical writing from Burgis. Recommended for the child of all ages!
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