I received this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to her for this opportunity.
While I usually tend to shy away from romance-imbued stories, I’m always happy to make an exception for Stephanie Burgis’ works, because her take on the subject is always permeated with a good dose of tongue-in-cheek humor, and Scales and Sensibility, the first volume in her new, Regency-inspired saga, passed the test with flying colors. When a book starts with this kind of sentence:
It was a truth universally acknowledged that any young lady without a dragon was doomed to social failure.
I know I’m in in for a delightful journey – particularly since the mere mention of dragons never fails to pique my curiosity…
Elinor Tregarth is an orphaned “poor relation”: her parents lost all their money at the hands of unscrupulous profiteers, then died in a carriage incident, leaving Elinor and her two younger sisters alone and penniless. The three girls were sent to live with various relatives, and Elinor clearly drew the short straw: her uncle Lord Heathergill is a pompous twit, his wife never utters a word, and Elinor’s cousin Penelope is a spoiled brat whose only interest lies in her society debut and grabbing a worthy husband. Oh, and in showing off her newly-acquired dragon, Sir Jessamyn – unfortunately, her horrid temper and shrill voice only have the effect of terrorizing the poor creature, which often leads to loose-bowels-related noxious effects.
After the umpteenth temper tantrum from Penelope, Elinor cannot keep to her meek demeanor any longer, and after (finally!) speaking her mind to her horrified cousin, she leaves Heathergill Hall, taking Sir Jessamyn with her. Alone and penniless, and thrown into a ditch by a passing carriage, Elinor discovers that dragons can work a peculiar kind of magic, of which she takes advantage to try and forge a new path for herself – not that it will be an easy feat, what with having to deal with some very convoluted situations and her growing affection for a gentleman whose fortune-hunting intentions might not be as nefarious as they look…
I had a great time with Scales and Sensibility, which turned out to be a fast-paced comedy of manners with a good dose of magic and fantasy elements, carried by entertaining characters in whose depiction one can clearly feel the author’s delight in poking fun at the stereotypes of the Regency era: from the venomous vapidity of Penelope and her close friends to the obtuse snobbery of Lord Heathergill; from the scholarly blindness for social graces of dragon-expert Aubrey (one of my favorite characters) to the sly viciousness of the Armitages, a couple of mysterious highly-placed socialites, without forgetting the formidable Mrs. De Lacey, one of the queens of the London scene, who features prominently in the story – but in a very unexpected way – everyone plays a role in the intricate plot that mixes mistaken identities, strict social rules, nascent love stories and magic in a spellbinding tale that we know will lead to a foregone happy conclusion but that we enjoy following to the end because the cast makes the journey more than worthwhile.
My favorite element? It was the relationship between Elinor and the dragon Sir Jessamyn: it’s much more detailed and even more intriguing than the actual romantic plot, which is extraordinary since the dragon does not talk, except by warbling quite meaningfully and exchanging expressive glances with Elinor. It’s not just because I’m quite partial toward dragons: Sir Jessamyn is an adorable creature (well, as long as he’s not upset, since that tends to create embarrassing consequences…) and a totally engaging creation.
Every time I have the pleasure of reviewing one of Stephanie Burgis’ works I feel the need to mention their covers, which remains constantly gorgeous throughout her production: the cover for Scales and Sensibility is no exception and works perfectly as a companion for a captivating and charming story whose next installments look already more than promising.