SCALES AND SENSIBILITY by Stephanie Burgis (BOOK REVIEW)
Content warnings: Death of parents (prior to book, some grieving on page); emotional abuse from family.
Sensible, practical Elinor Tregarth really did plan to be the model poor relation when she moved into Hathergill Hall. She certainly never meant to kidnap her awful cousin Penelope’s pet dragon. She never expected to fall in love with the shameless – but surprisingly sweet – fortune hunter who came to court Penelope. And she never dreamed that she would have to enter into an outrageous magical charade to save her younger sisters’ futures.
However, even the most brilliant scholars of 1817 England still haven’t ferreted out all the lurking secrets of rediscovered dragonkind, and even the most sensible of heroines can still make a reckless wish or two when she’s pushed. Now Elinor will have to find out just how rash and resourceful she can be when she sets aside all common sense. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll even be impractical enough to win her own true love and a happily ever after…with the unpredictable and dangerous “help” of the magical creature who has adopted her.
It should come as no surprise to long-term readers of my reviews that I’m a huge fan of Stephanie Burgis – her stories always seem to fill exactly the kind of niches I’ve always wanted to read. After loving her Regency fantasy Harwood Spellbook series, I was really excited to see what her new series would be like, and I’m pleased to say that while it’s tonally fairly different, it’s just as delightful. If I hadn’t been interrupted, I would have raced through the whole of Scales and Sensibility in one sitting – it’s exactly the kind of fluffy, fun fantasy I adore!
Elinor Tregarth is a fabulous heroine, one whom it’s easy to sympathise with as she deals with her awful family, and whom it’s even easier to root for as she learns to stand up for herself. And Elinor isn’t the only character I loved – pretty much all of them are wonderful, even the ones you love to hate! Benedict Hawkins, the love interest, is the perfect swoonsome Regency hero, and while it would have been easy for bratty Penelope to be irritatingly one-note, she’s actually very entertaining, as are the various other quirky members of her houseparty, who range from amusing to dangerous. One of my favourite side characters was Mr Aubrey, a scholar of dragons who’s so intently focused on his work he barely notices the world around him – he provides plenty of comic relief, but is also very interesting in himself. I hope we see more of him in the future! Of course, it would be wrong of me not to mention the very best character of all – Sir Jessamyn, the dragon, who is completely adorable and wonderful. Reading this book will make you want a pet shoulder dragon.
I really loved the themes of self-confidence throughout the book, and how Elinor learns to act in her own interests only when she’s given the opportunity to literally act like she isn’t herself. There can be a real freedom in deciding not to care about other people’s opinions of you, but it’s not easy to get to a position where you can do that, for fear of causing trouble or breaking relationships. The magical aspect here allows Elinor an unexpected opportunity to be someone she’s always admired, someone who stands for no nonsense, but even for those of us who have no dragons to help, emulating someone who has the qualities you want can be a powerful tool, and I really enjoyed how this theme of re-invention played out both with Elinor, and with her aunt (on which no spoilers, but a quick mention that her character has a fantastic subplot – and actually mentions the menopause as a catalyst for change, which is awesome to see!). Perhaps I’m armchair philosophising, but after lockdown, I think a lot of us are realising we need to make active choices to make our lives better, and this book perfectly encapsulates the fraughtness of deciding to make scary changes, and the relief when you discover it’s working.
Oh, this is just a delicious read. Stephanie Burgis is an auto-buy author for me, and if you like clever women, magical shenanigans, and that indescribable quality of books that feel like friends the moment you pick them up, then you need to read this one and then put her on your auto-buy list too. This is perfect fluffy, fun fantasy of manners, and I loved every moment. I can’t wait for book two!