Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis

SPFBO Status: Finalist

Rate: 8/10

Medium: ebook

Overview (No Spoilers):

Scales and Sensibility is a delightfully fun read where Burgis elegantly merges a Regency setting with dragons. Magic, dragons, family drama, conspiracies, and romance are all packed into this novel, with suspense mounting throughout until a path through the proper madness seems inconceivable. 

Elinor Tregarth is trapped. Over the past six months she has endured tragedy after heartbreaking tragedy, starting with the loss of both of her parents and followed by the discovery that her family’s wealth is gone after a poor investment, forcing her and her sisters to be separated and dependent on distant family’s charity. Elinor is taken in by her aunt’s family, the Hathergills, and is treated little better than a servant for her entitled cousin, Penelope, whose tantrums will make the reader physically cringe. Elinor’s misery escalates proportionally with the increasing frequency and volume of Penelope’s fits as her debut into society draws near. Most of these outbursts center around her new dragon, Sir Jessamyn, as he fails to meet Penelope’s expectations of a mute centerpiece, instead spewing vile, smelly slime whenever he becomes startled or scared (which is indeed quite often). As dragons are the staple of every new debutante’s wardrobe, there is immense pressure for Penelope and Sir Jessamyn to somehow coexist in society without making a scandalous scene. However, after Penelope crosses the line one too many times, Elinor makes a break for it with Sir Jessamyn in tow, leading her on a wild, unexpected adventure. Soon, however, pressure is mounting from all sides, threatening her newfound freedom and that of her sisters.

Burgis has created characters who both fill conventional Regency roles but are also genuinely fun to follow in their extravagant excess and strict social rules. It shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that I find Penelope to be the absolute worst and the embodiment of spoiled. She surrounds herself with two enabling minions who cling to her coattails; however, as Elinor soon finds out, there is more to Lucinda than meets the eye. With the impending debut, Penelope’s father has several suitors lined up, thus introducing a whole slew of uncomfortable, yet hilarious interactions that showcase Penelope’s worst tendencies. Additionally, as the characters get more print time, we start to see the hidden depths as their strict facades crack. My favorite character turned out to be Penelope’s mother who, with a little magical help, completely sheds the mousy, mute exterior she’s embodied for several decades (much to the horror of her family but amusement for the reader). These characters are so well crafted that the cast as a whole keeps the air light and maintains the general feel of this specific genre, all with dragons.

Although dragons are prominently featured in Scales and Sensibility, much of the drama has nothing to do with fantastical elements, rather centering around the familiar tropes of families in financial ruin, waffling between marrying for money or love, a mysterious thief, and a household where the help sees all. While none of the aforementioned topics need magic to thrive and are neatly at home in other familiar Regency novels, Burgis fits all of that and more, amplifying the story as a whole by including dragons and magic with much aplomb. Plus, who can resist smiling at the mental image of a dragon in a sitting room spewing smelly slime every time it’s startled, especially when its warning sounds quite a bit like a chuckle?

Overall, Scales and Sensibility is an amusing read that becomes increasingly more difficult to put down as Elinor finds herself more and more cornered with each subsequent chapter and tantrum. 

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound)

  • Mr. Aubrey’s blind refusal of dragon lore from fairy tales was quite amusing, especially as he missed the magic happening right in front of his own eyes. 
  • Do only certain dragons exhibit magic? What other magic can the dragons wield? Is there really only a limit of three wishes? If someone else takes up a dragon that has already used up its wishes, does the count reset with more wishes?
  • Debutantes having dragons on their shoulders as a fashionable item was used perfectly to highlight how ridiculous and capricious fashion is sometimes. 
  • Will the trend of displaying a peacock feather instead of a dragon catch on? What will happen to all of the discarded dragons?
  • Why hasn’t Mr. Aubrey obtained a dragon of his own for research purposes?
  • Benedict and Elinor’s love story was a bit of a stretch. Sure, let’s buy into the love at first sight, but their interactions were minimal throughout, especially since at one point he thought Elinor was after his friend’s wealth. 
  • How will Benedict and Elinor distribute the money since a large amount of it has already been spent? Will she bring her sisters home?
  • Are the other families who took in Elinor’s sisters just as terrible?
  • I loved seeing Lady Hathergill evolve throughout this novel. She was so reserved and broken from her daughter and husband but through Elinor’s wish found her backbone, even after the wish is recanted. 
  • How was Sally able to help her sister? Was Lucida actually in trouble or was she able to explain it away?
  • I loved the introduction of the real Mrs. De Lacey. She did not disappoint. And it was lovely to see how Elinor came into her own, emulating the confident woman. 
  • Will Mr. Aubrey meet Elinor’s bookish sister?

Vocabulary Builder

Presentiment – a feeling the something will or is about to happen; premonition

Puce – a dark red

Reticule – a woman’s drawstring bag used especially as a carryall

Sirrah – used as a form of address implying inferiority in the person addressed


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