The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, was published in 2017 by Bloomsbury.

All Aventurine wants to do is explore the world outside her family’s mountain cave. But as a young dragon, her tough scales haven’t fully developed yet, and the outside is too perilous—or so her family says. Aventurine is determined to fly on her own and prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when that human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl—no sharp teeth, no fire breath, no claws. Still, she’s the fiercest creature in these mountains, and she’s found her true passion: chocolate. All she has to do is get to the human city to find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time…won’t she?

Rating: 4/5

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is a charming story for both dragon-lovers and chocolate-lovers. I’m not a huge fan of the title, but the cover art is amazing and this book revived my interest in Burgis’s works (if you recall, I strongly disliked her Kat, Incorrigible series). Fierce girl (who is actually a dragon; hence, why she is fierce) works much better in a made-up fantasy world than in Regency England.

The plot is fairly formulaic, but Aventurine’s bumbles (and successes) as she struggles to make sense of human life rapidly endear her to the reader. Plus, there’s lots and lots of chocolate involved, which is a bonus. Perhaps some things were overdone—Aventurine wallows a little too long in self-inflicted misery, there’s one too many appearances from cruel-woman-who-sets-protagonist’s-teeth-on-edge, and it’s a little eyebrow-raising that so much drama could revolve around one little chocolate house—but the likeable protagonist, the interesting setting and the engaging plot help offset those.

I could have done without the constant reminders of Silke’s clothing, though. I really don’t understand why a girl wearing men’s clothes is supposed to be so empowering or different. I get it, in this fantasy world, women wear dresses, men wear pants, etc., so a girl wearing pants is supposed to scream forthrightness and strength and standing-up-against-the-man-ness. But all I could think about was how boring and formulaic a character Silke was, whose characterization was built on “she wears pants” and nothing else. I would much rather have a well-written female character in a dress than a boring, cliché female character in pants, but I guess the public wants the latter so that’s what authors are giving them.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart has some flaws, but overall it’s a charming story with an interesting protagonist, a good plot, and a well-built world. I enjoyed reading it, despite my dislike of Silke, and the book has lifted my opinion of Burgis overall. I hope she writes more books like this one, and less like Kat, Incorrigible.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Chocolate houses were nothing like I’d expected.

When the scent of chocolate, growing stronger and stronger, led me to the open doorway of yet another yellow-and-white building, I stopped just outside it in disbelief.

Two humans nearly bumped into me from behind….I gave them both a narrow-eyed, accusing glance. “This building isn’t made of chocolate!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2j35ud3

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis

Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, was published in 2013 by Atheneum. It is the sequel to Renegade Magic.

With just days to go before her sister Angeline’s long-delayed wedding to Frederick Carlyle, the impetuous Kat Stephenson has resigned herself to good behavior. But Kat’s initiation into the magical Order of the Guardians is fast approaching, and trouble seems to follow her everywhere. First, Kat must contend with the wretched Mrs. Carlyle’s attempts to humiliate her sister; the arrival of the mysterious Marquise de Valmont, who bears suspicious resemblance to Kat’s later mother; and Frederik’s bewitching cousin Jane, who has Charles Stephenson tripping over his feet. But when a menacing boy with powerful magic starts hunting Kat, a dastardly villain tries to kill Angeline, and the guardians face a magical robbery that could spell the end of their Order, propriety becomes the least of Kat’s concerns. Can Kat save her sister’s life, the Order of the Guardians, and England itself before it’s too late?

Despite my dislike of Kat in Kat, Incorrigible and Renegade Magic, I was holding out hope that she would start to mature a little in Stolen Magic. There were signs in Renegade Magic that she was, so despite my overall dislike of that book, I still looked forward to this one. However, I was sorely disappointed, because Kat continues to be the annoying, irresponsible and rash protagonist that she was in the first two books. If you like that about her, then great, you’ll love this book. I, however, do not, so I didn’t.

Once again, Burgis completely eliminates potential development and maturation of Kat by throwing the option into Kat’s face and then having Kat refuse it. In addition, other characters point out her flaws and she continues to ignore them and acts in the same way, and it’s very frustrating to read. Throughout all three books, Kat continues to jump to conclusions in the exact same manner, and I just do not like characters who are stuck in their development like that.

I didn’t comment much on it in the past two books, but the attitude of adults towards Kat also does not make any sense to me. Lady Fotherington’s intense hatred of a thirteen-year-old just does not seem plausible, and neither do her attempts at sabotaging said thirteen-year-old. Also implausible was Elissa refusing to tell people that she was pregnant merely because Burgis wanted some further scandal angst to throw at her characters.

Also, this book was really dark for a children’s book. I was actually shocked by how dark it got.

Some positives: I did like the character of Alexander and the hints of what will happen in the future (probably to be confirmed in Courting Magic, a novella sequel to this book). I also really like Angeline and Frederick together, and Charles is another good character that slightly lessened my irritation of Kat.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Domestic violence, gun violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“Oh, Cousin,” Jane Carlyle said. She was wiping her eyes with her handkerchief, which was small and dainty and pink, and perfectly embroidered with the letters JC. “You cannot be any more horrified by the idea than I am, I promise you. When I think of your notoriously murderous tendencies—”

“His what?” growled Charles. It was the first time he’d managed a coherent phrase since her arrival, and his tone was so full of menace that she blinked rapidly and took a step away from him.

Frederick Carlyle only grinned. “Never fear, Stephenson,” he said. “My murderous tendencies, as my cousin likes to call them, began and ended with her favorite doll, and only when she’d aggravated me past bearing by throwing my best pair of Hessian boots into the sea…and purely because she found that I’d been playing cards regularly at Eton, just like every other fellow there. My cousin has a bit of a fixation, you know.”

Overall Review:

I really want to like Stolen Magic, and the Kat, Incorrigible series in general, but I find Kat such a frustrating and annoying protagonist that I end up cheering every time someone yells at her. I do like the secondary characters, though, and this series would probably be a lot of fun for someone who doesn’t mind incorrigible protagonists.

You can buy this here: Stolen Magic (Kat, Incorrigible)

Renegade Magic: Does This Girl Ever Learn Anything?

Renegade Magic is written by Stephanie Burgis. It was published in 2011 by Atheneum. It is the sequel to Kat, Incorrigible.

Kat Stephenson may have inherited her mother’s magical talents, but not everyone in the Order of the Guardians is ready to accept her. When she is tricked into losing her temper in front of the most powerful Guardian in England, she finds herself expelled without a single magic lesson. After a devastating accusation shatters her sister Angeline’s romance, their stepmama whisks the family away to the fashionable city of Bath and orders Angeline to find a new fiancé. But as Angeline plays a dangerous game with a scandalous rake, their brother, Charles, tumbles headlong into danger…and Bath’s wild magic gets ready to explode. With more than one life at stake, will Kat’s untrained magic be enough to reunite Angeline with her true love, conquer the danger at Bath, and prove she truly has what it takes to be a Guardian?

My main issue with Kat, Incorrigible, was Kat herself, and unfortunately Renegade Magic has the same exact problem. Kat’s independence and breaking of every propriety is still unbelievable and even gets to the “this is annoying” and “does this girl ever learn anything?” stage. There are some moments where Kat begins to realize that she can’t act impulsively all the time and get away with it, but those moments are few and far between and overall do nothing to impact Kat’s development as a character. The one person who could have served as a way to make her grow up a bit is conveniently (and obviously) revealed to be the villain, and the day is saved not by Kat learning from her impulsiveness and actually thinking ahead, but by her throwing away everything she’s learned throughout the course of the book and resorting to the exact attitudes and actions that got her in trouble throughout the first two books. I think I’m even less endeared to Kat as a protagonist now than I was in Kat, Incorrigible.

Despite that, though, I do still like the magical aspect of the world, and the magic is explained a little bit more in this book so even though it’s still a bit confusing how it works, it’s more developed than it was.

I loved how Kat’s father was there for the climax/denouement and how Charles stepped up a bit when Lady Fotherington was insulting Kat. And I still giggled at the romantic bits with Angeline and Frederick, because it was cute (and pretty angsty, for a kid’s book).

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“It’s only that I was so surprised,” I said to Mrs. Wingate. “I don’t know how Lady Fotherington came to be so mistaken about your house and your good taste. Why, when I told her we would be staying here, she said…well, I don’t think it would be polite to say exactly what she said.” I shot a pointed glance at the butler behind us. “Not in front of the servants.”

Mrs. Wingate’s heavy jaw worked up and down. “Why—”

“I am so glad to see that she was wrong,” I said. “She had been quite concerned that your house wouldn’t be an appropriate place for us to stay, you see, if we wanted to meet really good company in Bath.”

Overall Review:

The minor flaws I saw in Kat in Kat, Incorrigible come roaring to the front in Renegade Magic, making me alternate between grinding my teeth and wanting someone to put some sense into Kat. Everything else is delightfully Regency, though, and I still love the romance aspect. The magic that was shown in the first book is slightly more developed here, although I still want to find out more and hope Burgis develops it even further in the third book.

You can buy this here: Renegade Magic

Kat, Incorrigible: Regency Fantasy Is The Best Fantasy

Kat, Incorrigible is written by Stephanie Burgis. It was published in 2011 by Atheneum.

Nineteenth-century England is not the place to be practicing magic. In this prim and proper world, twelve-year-old Katherine Ann Stephenson is at a loss: Her sisters, Elissa and Angeline, have recently entered Society and now gossip incessantly in whispers; her foolish brother, Charles, has gambled the family deep into debt; and Stepmama wants nothing to do with them at all. What can Kat do but take matters into her own hands? Luckily Kat has inherited her mother’s magical talents and has the courage to use them—if she can only learn how. But with her sister Elissa’s intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s magical potential; her sister Angeline creating romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highway man lurking in the forest, even Kat’s reckless heroism will be tested to the utmost. Will her powers be enough to win her sisters their true loves?

Regency fantasy is fast becoming my new favorite thing. I absolutely adore Sorcery & Cecelia, and when I saw that this book, though for a younger audience, was also set in the Regency period, I knew I had to read it.

For the most part, I really enjoyed it. Kat, Incorrigible is fun, has a pretty complex plot, and the romance shenanigans (and sappiness) made me laugh in a good way. I loved when their stepmother at the end actually showed some family solidarity and stood up for the girls, and Frederick Carlyle was my favorite.

The one problem I had with the book is that Burgis seemed to be trying too hard to make Kat the typical spirited, rebellious protagonist and as a result I had a very hard time buying that this was actually the Regency period. Her antics just didn’t make sense, and the Hoorah, Girl Power! is laid on way too thick. I mean, that horse ride at the end with the cloak and pistols? Get real. I don’t know, Kat just seemed way too independent for a twelve-year-old in that period. She was a good protagonist most of the time, but there were times where I thought she was acting a little too ridiculously to be believable.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“Don’t look to me for answers,” I said. “You’re the one coming up with wild ideas this time. Maybe it’s because you already miss Mr. Carlyle so much. Maybe the agony of loss is making your mind disordered…if it wasn’t already, that is.”

“Very amusing.” Angeline set the reticule back down on my green and yellow bedcovers. “So. You’ve already hidden it.” Her gaze crossed the small bedroom consideringly. “It certainly doesn’t smell like magic in here.”

I blinked at her. “Smell? What does magic smell like?” I had a sudden image of Angeline sniffing the air like a hunting spaniel, and I had to stifle a snort of laughter. Luckily, she didn’t notice.

Overall Review:

Kat, Incorrigible is mostly fun, with just enough Regency flair to make me really enjoy it and a bit of romance for Kat’s older sisters to make me grin. Kat actually distracted from the story a little, simply because I thought Burgis was trying too hard to make her seem independent/spirited/whatever and a result the book seemed less Regency in some places.

You can buy this here: Kat, Incorrigible