The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Stephanie Burgis follows up last year’s award-nominated middle grade fantasy The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart with The Girl with the Dragon Heart (2018), the second book in her TALES FROM THE CHOCOLATE HEART series. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart followed the escapades of Aventurine, a chocolate-loving young dragon enchanted into the shape of a young girl. The focus now shifts to Aventurine’s friend Silke, a dark-skinned girl with short black curly hair. More importantly, Silke is also brave, quick-thinking and fast-moving, and has a great talent for creating stories, including her own.
Silke, an orphan, spends most of her time waitressing at the Chocolate Heart, one of Drachenburg’s finest chocolate houses (where Aventurine is an apprentice), helping to market their shop by creating and passing out promotional handbills, and keeping the hot-tempered Aventurine out of trouble. But Silke, who’s lived on the streets for years, feels compelled to create a life that has more security and permanence. So when the crown princess of Drachenburg offers Silke a challenge ― pretend to be one of the relatives of the royal family, spy on a delegation of visiting fairies from Elfenwald, and find out what they’re up to and why they’re visiting humans for the first time in over a century ― Silke is delighted to accept, and make herself over as one of the nobility. But is she really ready to leave her friends at the Chocolate Heart behind?
Also, what Silke doesn’t tell Princess Katrin is that six years ago, when Silke was only seven years old, she traveled through Elfenwald with her parents and older brother Dieter in a caravan of refugees. In the middle of the night the group had an encounter with the fairies that ended badly. Dieter and Silke’s parents suddenly disappeared, and the rest of the group rushed out of the forest, taking Dieter and Silke with them. This assignment from Princess Katrin is just the chance Silke has been waiting for, to find out what became of her parents and whether they’re still alive.
The Girl with the Dragon Heart is a solid sequel to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. The fairies are perhaps not quite as exciting as the dragons in the first story, but they’re a devious group that presents some unexpected challenges for Silke, particularly when her sometimes-dragon-sometimes-girl friend Aventurine gets involved. The story emphasizes the importance of love, acceptance, and loyalty to both friends and family ― both biological and “made” families.
There’s lots of racial diversity in Drachenburg, not only a minority heroine with a can-do attitude, but characters from both the lower and upper classes of society. Horst and Marina, the couple who run the Chocolate Heart, are a mixed-race couple, as are the king and queen of Drachenburg. Skin color is mentioned in passing but doesn’t ever play a role in how people are viewed and treated by others; it’s a refreshingly color-blind society.
I appreciated Silke’s story-telling point of view, and her determination to create her own story.
I wouldn’t feel this helpless again. I had sworn that a long time ago.
I’d been seven years old the first time I’d felt that taste of sick danger in the air: the feeling of an angry crowd transforming into a mob. By then, I’d already lost my parents and any illusion of safety. … But I wasn’t that powerless girl anymore. I was not. I was the heroine of my own story, and I would make my story work.
It’s a powerful theme in the story, and young readers will enjoy Silke’s adventures and appreciate her courage.
For fans of this TALES FROM THE CHOCOLATE HEART series, Burgis also has a couple of cute short stories set in this world that are available to read for free on her website: “A Chocolate-Flavoured Bargain” and “The Dragon with an Unbearable Family.”