Peter Dickinson’s The Tears of the Salamander begins with a simple gift and ends with a magical legacy. When his seldom-seen, rich Uncle Giorgio gives young Alfredo a strange present on his name day, his parents aren’t sure they want him to have it. The golden chain doesn’t have the expected cross on it—from it dangles the golden image of a strange animal—a little lizard with splayed feet and other peculiar features. Alfredo’s older brother is very jealous. He sees nothing special in Alfredo. Sure, he can sing like an angel, but that’s not much use to a baker’s boy, is it?
The local priests see Alfredo’s gift differently. They want him in their boys’ choir, and he is happy to be there for he loves to sing—but he also loves baking and hopes to follow his father into the trade. When catastrophe strikes leaving Alfredo alone and friendless, the priests urge him to join the choir permanently, and he would have done so even though it would have meant giving up a normal life. But just at the crucial moment, his Uncle Giorgio comes to take him away to reclaim his birthright—the birthright his father refused by choosing instead to become a simple village baker.