Beneath the Scales by Aurora PeppermintRating: 3 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Martus is a teenaged boy stealing to survive and feed/clothe his much younger sister, Elsaben. They live in an abandoned house on the edge of a town and one day, while at the market, Elsaben is taken by a filthy, rampaging dragon. Martus is beyond grief. His parents had died in a fire, from which he rescued baby Elsaben several years ago, and Elsaben is his only remaining family. Like his father, everyone Martus currently knows is vehemently anti-dragon, and so is he. His love for Elsaben is strong, and he vows to avenge her.

Then, she is returned. Elsban is carried by an enchanted horse that she claims Hal, the dragon, bade return her to her home. Afraid that the unquestionably scurrilous dragon will return and harm Elsaben, Martus strikes out on the horse for the return journey so that he can best the dragon and ensure Elsaben’s future safety.

challenge monthOnly, meeting Hal, Martus isn’t able to finish his mission. Hal is a young-looking man who seems distraught over his dragonish rampages. Like Martus, Hal’s parents both died when he was young and he has little control over his transformation. Exceeding Martus’ wildest expectations, Hal is a generous and conscientious host who even attempts to educate him and offers to help Elsaben learn magic. Martus has had little education as a result of his poverty, which means his magical skills are underdeveloped, and he’s less than able to educate Elsaben. Hal’s patience and kindness begin to change Martus’ anti-dragon ideas. After all, Hal is not bad, and he’s a dragon, so all dragons can’t be bad.

This is a really clean YA M/M fantasy. I had a few problems with the story—which may be fixed in a sequel—but I NEEDED to see Hal as a dragon after Martus had befriended him. My first preference is for a romance, and this story is not a romance. Martus repeatedly alludes to his sexual prowess, luring husbands to his bed, but the only physicality here is a single, closed-mouthed kiss at the end. That was disappointing. In many ways I was encouraged, feeling as if the story was building, only it didn’t pay-off on the promise. I wanted to see more magic on the page. More dragons. More Hal struggling to maintain his human-side. As it was, it was a neat little adventure that had dubious goals. Elsaben was home. Why strike out on a seemingly suicidal quest? I wondered.

I appreciated that Martus’ dragonphobic ideas were assuaged. I liked the setting, and I loved Martus’ love for Elsaben. I enjoyed how dedicated and doting Martus was of Elsaben, and how he became a fierce defender of Hal against men who could (and did) beat him senseless. Still, I felt the story was lacking in substance and action. The vast majority of the book was too sedate and had next-to-nil conflict, which affected the pacing of the story, for me. I am hopeful that we’ll see a sequel in which Hal will be displayed in his full dragony glory. A little bit of a romance between Hal and Martus would not go amiss. I want Martus to REALLY get to know Hal, and for their connection to be solid, even if there is no sex on the page. And more magic is a must.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

This review is part of our September Reading Challenge Month for Genre Challenge Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win this week’s fabulous prize of all 12 books released in September, plus an audiobook, from Less Than Three Press, as well as our amazing grand prize sponsored by Riptide Publishing. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Genre Challenge Week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes! 

veronica sig