Weyr, Garret. The Language of Spells. Illustrated by Katie Harnett. Chronicle Books, 2018. 299 pages. $16.99. ISBN 9781452159584. Ages 11-14. P7 Q9
A dragon who spent much of his life transformed into a teapot and a sad, solitary girl become friends and take on the task of finding the missing dragons of Vienna.
Though born in 1803, the dragon Grisha spent most of his life frozen into a teapot by an evil sorcerer, able to hear and see, but unable to move or speak. Released from the spell after what Grisha has only heard called the great war, he flies to Vienna to join the other dragons of Europe. Forty years later, Maggie who lives with her poet father in a Viennese hotel, becomes friends with Grisha and the two together work through Grisha’s clouded memories and the menace of the Department of Extinct Exotics to find the missing dragons and face the menace of the sorcerer who captured Grisha.
Verdict: I cannot recommend this title too much. Garret Weyr’s gorgeous flowing language carries this fantasy with its twinned themes–that magic carries a heavy price and that humans become incapable of seeing that which they do not believe—to a satisfying ending. Weyr excels in weaving emotions into the fabric of the story and Maggie’s conflict about her mother’s death is an important thread.
Though Grisha’s life encompasses the tumultuous 19th and 20th centuries of European history, his teapot imprisonment prevents him knowing more than hints of the horrors of the Holocaust, though careful readers will catch the references in Yakov’s letters to his family and in the evacuation of family and children to the English countryside. Likewise, the menace of the Department of Extinct Exotics and the sorcerer echo the threats of the Cold War and totalitarian governments of post-war Europe.
I did not find that Katie Harnett’s illustrations added to my enjoyment of the story. Her style of illustration, while pleasant, did not match the elegance of Weyr’s prose.
Other books by the author (published under the name Garret Freymann-Weyr) include My Heartbeat (a 2003 Printz honor book), Stay with Me, After the Moment, When I Was Older, and French Ducks in Venice.
I find this one of the best books I’ve read recently. I recommend it for all middle grade, high school, and public, libraries. I can only hope that it becomes available as an audiobook.