Welcome to the SPFBO 8 Finals! Team Queen’s Book Asylum reviews Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgies, picked by Team Weatherwaxdrifter.
A quick reminder about how we are proceeding in the Finals: our judges had the freedom to opt out of reading any of the books due to personal interest, time restrictions, unforeseen life events, etc. Our aim is to have at least 3 reviews/scores for each finalist, which shouldn’t be too hard between the 5 of us. For Scales and Sensibility we have 4 reviews for your reading pleasures, so, let’s get down to it!
|Series: Regency Dragons #1||Genre: Fantasy, Romance|
|Date of Publishing: October 4, 2021||Publisher: self-published|
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.
A frothy Regency rom-com full of pet dragons and magical misadventures, Scales and Sensibility is a full-length novel and the first in a new series of standalone romantic comedies.
Before the release, Burgis tweeted “This book is full of nervous pet dragons, magical mixups, and a sensible heroine trying desperately to operate within such decidedly not-sensible circumstances! It’s also my personal joint tribute to Jane Austen and Terry Pratchett.” OH BOY. So two out of my top five favourite authors ever? (Make that two out of top two.) I grabbed a copy, of course. I’m not sure why I never got to it until the SPFBO finals time has come, but I definitely had expectations. I should be forbidden from having expectations.
As Pratchett’s Lady Sybil would let you know, there is now a trend among nobles and social elite to keep swamp dragons as pets. Some even try to train them to sit on their shoulders in a decorative manner. Others throw them out. Austen has, of course, written novels set in the Regency period, ostentatiously romantic (although people who roll their eyes at “romance” could do with reading them). This is as close as Scales gets to either, though. I’d describe it more as PG Wodehouse’s awkward comedy of errors and mistaken identities, except Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster is 1) filthy rich, and 2) keeps trying to not get married.
There is implausible and there is “look, I need this for the plot, okay?” The rich and influential Mrs. De Lacey appears in the same room at an inn where Elinor was spending the night before disappearing. She arrives at night, completely unnoticed, and sends away the carriage containing everything she needs. Luckily, Mrs. De Lacey finds it refreshing to wear a poor relation’s clothes (which somehow fit, even though much is made of Elinor being much thinner than Mrs. De Lacey) and not be burdened by jewellery. Her dragon looks exactly like the one Elinor left with, except for golden markings, and as it happens Mrs. De Lacey also talks to the dragon like Elinor did, even though it was earlier pointed out that this is extremely unusual.
The only person who figures it out is a maid, who points out Elinor would “cut off [her] own hand” before leaving her siblings’ letters behind, “no matter how fast you were running.” Except Elinor did leave the letters behind when she ran… look, the plot needs this, okay? More and more problems, questions that can’t be answered, blackmail, and explanations so tangled Elinor trips over them keep piling up. I found myself on the edge of the seat for wrong reasons. It took me longer than I expected to read Scales and Sensibility, because it was stressing me out.
I have no problem with the instalove trope so many disdain. (This might have to do with the fact that I experienced it 11 years ago. We’ll be married for seven years this May. Thank you, thank you.) Nevertheless, Mr. Hawkins’ only exceptional trait seems to be not despising the “real” Elinor and talking about her as if she were an actual human being. In a book filled with characters ranging from unlikeable to awful, he stands out by not being an asshole, but Elinor, shouldn’t you have some standards? Maybe if the book was advertised as MG, I’d just shrug it off. Burgis, however, said in a Goodreads Q&A: “This one is officially for adults, but there’s nothing in it that younger readers couldn’t see – they just might not be as interested in this one.” As an adult reader, one familiar with Austen’s oeuvre and Rebecca, I found this particular case of instalove bewildering and unsettling.
If I were asked to describe the book, I’d say “a PG Wodehouse homage with a vomiting dragon, Regency romance, farcical humour, and vague allusions to Jane Austen, perfect for MG readers.” I loved Aunt Hathergill’s transformation, especially when it turned out to be permanent. I was impressed by the elegance with which the author managed to tie all the (many!) loose ends at the end when it looked like the final plot twist would be the final nail in Elinor’s coffin. Nevertheless, I feel the book suffers from false advertising, even if most of it comes from fans (one of the ARC reviewers misinterpreted Burgis’ initial tweet as “Jane Austen but with dragons” and it caught up). I didn’t set my expectations too high – I set them in a wrong direction.
I’m going to admit right off the bat that as much as I wanted to get into this book and enjoy it, by and large I am just not the target audience for this one. I enjoy my fantasy of the epic, dark, sometimes violent, and multi-layered worldbuilding variety. This is, well….not that. Scales and Sensibility leans very heavily into the cozy, regency, romance realm. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed this type of story before. In fact, both Galen Beckett’s Mrs. Quent series and Angela Boord’s Eterean Empire are realy quite good and I found them to be immensely intriguing. But in general I usually have to mix these in sporadically between my usual grimdark gore fest fantasy reads because all in all it’s just not my bag.
What I did like about this book were the characters and the humorous dialogue. It was definitely easy to get caught up in the likeability of the main character and how she interacted with those in her social circle. The writing was also solid and that was reflected in the charmingly witty dialogue and quaint romantic scenes. But ultimately I found this to be too heavy handed for my liking and it hampered my overall enjoyment for the most part. Certainly not one of the worst books I’ve ever read but it just didn’t execute in the ways that I usually need a book to and for that reason it was just an okay read for me. But I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who prefers their fantasy of the light, cozy, and romantic type. If you enjoy that kind of read you’ll find much to be enamored with here.
Having never read Sense and Sensibility, nor any regency/period-drama fiction, I can’t comment on whether this is a retelling of the classic novel or just inspired by it.
Certainly, from my limited experience of the genre it hits all the expected notes along with those you’d expect to find in a more modern romantic comedy. The downtrodden and perennially overlooked protagonist finds her confidence, gets the eligible gentleman, and they ride off into a happy, though probably not smooth-sailing, sequel.
Sadly, these plot points don’t at all resonate with me and, if I’m honest, are the polar opposite of what I look for in a fantasy novel. It was far too light and convenient, with very little tension or genuine stakes. The fantasy elements were minimal with the dragons not adding a great deal to the story, and instead feeling like inanimate accessories.
That being said, if this is a genre you enjoy or are tempted by, I’d certainly give it a go. The writing is smooth with everything moving along briskly, plus there is genuine period ambience throughout in both the descriptions and language.
Oh wow, look at me, I’m going to be the good girl this time! I’ve said quite a few times that romance is not a genre I’d call a favorite, and hell knows I complained about romance plots/elements in books enough times. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading books with romance occasionally – usually in audiobook form between fantasy books just to have a nice mix going. Especially in the past year, I started leaning towards cozy books and seeking out lighthearted, fun reads as my escapism. Scales and Sensibility fits quite well into that trend with me.
I’ve seen this book on my social media feeds a lot since its publishing, and I admit I was curious. Admittedly, I didn’t have crazy high expectations and so I wasn’t disappointed. I’m also neither a Jane Austen nor a Terry Pratchett fan (I only read one Austen book years ago, and I bounced back from the only Pratchett book I tried so far), so I had nothing to compare this book to. Which I guess explains why I enjoyed it much more than my dear fellow judges. I read it almost in a day, so I basically blazed through it. I found it super easy to read and I was engaged from start to finish. The writing was well-polished and smooth so I don’t have much to complain about in that department.
For a relatively short book, Scales and Sensibility has layer upon layer of intrigue, and quite a few plotlines for poor Elinor to tangle. I liked how everything came together in the end without being too predictable. My hats off to Burgis for that alone. Where this book lost me a bit were the characters. I kind of like Elinor, she is smart, kind, and definitely has more common sense than her family. And although she had the play a role unfamiliar to her throughout the book, I think she did find herself in a way. Even if it’s not very in our faces. The rest of the cast, however, was a bit one-dimensional and mostly just horrible as people. I liked Mr. Hawkins though. At least he wasn’t a total dick. I just wish there was a bit more build-up between him and Elinor. Their relationship did feel a bit instalove-y. I also wish dragons got more of a role than being literal accessories.
Overall, Scales and Sensibility is an entertaining novel if you are looking for a lighthearted Regency Romance with a fantasy twist. Both characters and plot lack a bit of depth that would have made it more memorable on the whole, but I’m glad it made into the finals nonetheless.
Our score for Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis
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