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Once upon a time, in a beautiful city famous for chocolate and protected by dragons, there was a girl so fearless that she dared to try to tell the greatest story of all: the truth.
Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that just years after arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announce they will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting fairies ...
Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden? From the author of the magical The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes a second magical adventure perfect for fans of Cressida Cowell, Cornelia Funke and Peter Bunzl
The first book in this series, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, won me over with its premise – dragons! chocolate! found-families! – so that I pre-ordered it despite it being a Middle Grade book. That was not a mistake; Burgis writes the kind of MG that packs a punch for adults too, and DwaCH is now one of my all-time favourite books.
So you can imagine how excited I was when I learned there was going to be a sequel!
I admit, I wince a little when I look at how long it took me to finish this – I started reading it in Sept 2018 and didn’t finish until June 2019! – but that is absolutely not the fault of the book, which I neglected shamefully. A combination of things slowed my reading down immensely, but it was all external stuff – work, winter holidays, that sort of thing.
Because Girl With a Dragon Heart is WONDERFUL!
Mild spoilers for book #1 below!
Silver-tongued Silke was introduced in DwaCH as a brilliantly flamboyant, wickedly clever, and incredibly loyal and determined young girl who helped Aventurine find her Life’s Passion – and was instrumental in keeping the Chocolate Heart, the chocolatier’s that is the main setting for the first book, afloat when all hope seemed lost. Girl with the Dragon Heart is her story, set not very long after the events of book one, and if there’s slightly less chocolate involved this time around, it’s still a fantastic read.
Silke and her older brother are refugees who live on the city’s riverbank, along with many other poor and displaced people. Dieter, her brother, Does Not Approve of Silke galavanting about the city and being involved with the Chocolate Heart – chocolate, after all, is only for the rich, and getting above yourself only brings trouble. While Silke is frustrated and upset by Dieter’s constant critique, an older reader (and I suspect a lot of younger ones too) can see immediately that he is simply trying to take care of her the best he can – I think he’s actually fourteen years old, definitely not older than sixteen or so, and is Silke’s only guardian, their parents having been taken by faeries years ago on the family’s journey from ‘up North’ to their present home. Silke and Dieter aren’t very good at communicating with each other, though, and by this time their relationship is pretty strained, to say the least. So when the crown princess offers Silke a temporary job as an undercover lady-in-waiting to her younger sister, the princess Sophia, Silke jumps at the chance: she’s going to be the best secret agent ever, prove herself indispensable to the crown princess, and in so doing set herself and her brother up for life.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Is it ever?
The faeries are coming for a state visit, from their underground kingdom to Silke’s own city. This is much more than her chance to gain the security wealth and prestige could bring – it might be her only chance to ever find out what happened to her parents…and if there’s any way to get them back.
Silke was a delight as a narrator; I’m so glad Burgis is writing this series in first-person! Poor Silke; she was born to be a diplomat, but everyone around her is determined to make her life harder! She’s just brilliantly smart, and between her constant – schemes is a harsh word; her ideas never hurt anybody, but they’re always big and grand and audacious, and while I can understand why the various older characters around her don’t believe in her – she is only twelve or so, and Dieter, for example, is genuinely worried for her – Burgis perfectly conveys the frustration and hurt of being a child too brilliant for the grown-ups to keep up with. It’s a finely balanced thing, though; Silke is too optimistic and determined to wallow in her own doubts and emotional scars, and instead just throws herself thrice as hard into whatever mission she’s set for herself. I wouldn’t blame her for being ground down by the life she’s had, but she just blazes brighter to compensate. I hope her story gets into the hands of all the kids who could draw inspiration from her.
Because if bravery is acting despite being afraid – rather than not being afraid at all – then Silke is genuinely a heroine to look up to. Despite her terror of faeries, she doesn’t hesitate to face them down. Where Aventurine always charges in breathing fire, Silke charms and tricks and deftly manipulates those around her – and with Aventurine being beside Silke for a good chunk of this book, their difference in approach is stark. It’s lightly touched on by the text, but mostly just left for the reader to put together by themselves: the fact that of course Aventurine is afraid of nothing, and is bold and blunt and uncompromising because of it; she’s a DRAGON. Maybe she’ll eventually learn to be more careful in human form, but she’s grown up knowing that dragons are at the very top of the food-chain, and anything with sense ought to be scared of her, not the other way around. Silke, on the other hand, isn’t just human, but one who has grown up displaced, poor, parentless, and largely ostracized. (The way her dark skin was introduced in book one makes me think that the city’s inhabitants are white, and while race is never overtly discussed, I can’t imagine that’s made her situation any easier either). Of course she’s learned how to charm people and talk fast – those are the only tools she’s ever had, her only defences against the big wide world. Of course she’s more attuned to the tiny signals of facial expression, tone, and choice of words – she reads people so much better than Aventurine because she’s always had to.
Those skills are exactly the ones she needs to deal with faeries, though. Even if Aventurine’s fire does eventually come in handy!
Silke is unquestionably the one who saves the day in the end, but the themes of friendship and family – and the forms those things can take – run just as strong as they do in DwaCH, if not even stronger. Silke’s adventures here are directly motivated by her love for her family – for her missing parents, and even the brother who doesn’t like her even if he does (probably) love her – but what I found interesting was that, once again, Burgis presents found- or made-families as being of just as much value as blood-relations. Silke’s relationship with Horst and Marina, the adults who own the Chocolate Heart and to whom Aventurine is apprenticed, is unquestionably familial, even if Silke herself doesn’t realise it at first – despite her own automatically pulling strings to get the Chocolate Heart the favour of the royal family. Silke acts without hesitation to help the people she cares about whenever she can; it’s something she doesn’t even think about, and I have to admit that made me choke up a bit – especially since she doesn’t expect the same treatment back. And although they don’t get a lot of page-time, Marina and Horst stand out as the only adults who believe in Silke’s abilities and general brilliance without question, even if Silke doesn’t realise it at first – she’s incredibly clever, but maybe has a little bit of a blind spot when it comes to people actually loving her like she loves them.
Ultimately, Girl with a Dragon Heart is another story of a young girl saving the day even when the grown-ups can’t. I know I would love to be able to send this series back in time to my younger self – these are very definitely books that are desperately needed by a certain kind of kid, and heck, some adults too. If anything, as much as I enjoyed the chocolate magic of book one, Girl with a Dragon Heart might be even easier for MG readers to relate to. Most of us (alas!) can’t turn into fire-breathing dragons like Aventurine; but I think there are a lot of readers who can and will see themselves in Silke and the obstacles she’s faced, and the ways in which she overcomes them. Making this not just a wonderful and heart-warming story, but also a powerfully necessary – and inspiring – one.
I think it goes without saying that I can’t wait to pounce on the next book, set to focus on Princess Sophia. Bring on The Princess who Flew with Dragons!