breath coverRating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel

Tori has left his a small town in northern Finland for a new life in Helsinki. Tori is a male mage, and therefore undesirable in his clan who value female mages. And to make things worse, Tori is gay, which means he can’t even help produce more kids for the clan. He has been mistreated his entire life by the Taavi clan, who think him so worthless they won’t even let him do magic.

Baldewin is a dragon in the Burkhard clan, who are continuing their quest to find more mages. Not only are the mages incredibly rare and the potential mates for the dragons, they are also under threat from the Jaeggi, a group of mages who are trying to harm them. When the Burkhard’s are able to track a mage in Helsinki, Baldewin and fellow dragon, Warin, head there in hopes of finding the mage and getting him protected. What they don’t expect is for the mage to hate dragons and want nothing to do with them.

Tori’s clan taught him that the great war that almost destroyed dragons and mages alike was caused by the dragons and that dragons are to be feared. They also told him that dragons only mate with female mages and no dragon would ever want him anyway. So when Tori is approached by Baldewin and Warin, he has no intention of going anywhere with them. Even when the men manage to convince Tori that all he learned is wrong, that it was the Jaeggi who started the war, he still isn’t confident about going to the Burkhard clan. No matter what the men say, Tori has a hard time believing they would really want a gay male mage, especially one so unpracticed as him. But when Tori is threatened by the Jaeggi, he realizes the dragons are his safest option.

Along the way to the Burkhard castle, Tori slowly gets to know Baldewin and realize how kind and sweet the man truly is. Baldewin makes him feel safe and protected. He also encourages Tori in his magic, affirming his skills and making clear that the Burkhards will enthusiastically welcome him. Tori is still wary, but as he gets to know the dragons better, he comes to realize that he might actually be wanted. Not only is he feeling settled, but his connection with Baldewin is growing even stronger. But the threats from the Jaeggi continue and the clan must figure out what they want and how to stop them before more mages lose their lives.

Breath is the second book in A.J. Sherwood and Jocelynn Drake’s Scales ‘N Spells series. Here we get a continuation of the Burkhard clan’s journey to find more mages and bring them to safety (and also find some potential mates). As with the first book, I find the strength here is some creative world building. I love the magical world the authors have built and it is clear that there is a lot of thought and detail put into the story. It was nice to see the focus shift here to a mage who was familiar with dragons and his abilities, but who had a different set of struggles than we saw from Cameron in the first book. Unlike Cameron, Tori knows he is a mage and knows about dragons, but everything he has been told is a lie. This story gives a chance to expand beyond the lore we learned in the first book, as well as to feature dragons from a different part of the world. We also get to see more of the Ice dragons here, and so I enjoyed seeing the universe expanded in this story.

I also enjoyed Baldewin and Tori together. They struggle in the beginning, as Tori wants nothing to do with the dragons. I appreciated seeing how Baldewin slowly wins Tori over with his kind and gentle nature. He is thoughtful and eager to help Tori, and slowly Tori comes to trust him. I also like the balance between them (something I appreciated in the first book as well). While Baldewin is incredibly strong and powerful, Tori has great skills and bravery as well. So they feel like a nicely matched couple and I enjoyed their relationship development. I do think that Tori’s character is much better developed than Baldewin’s, however. While we see Baldewin in action in the first book, here I don’t feel like we got to learn quite as much about him as I would have liked and the balance between them felt off. But, overall, I think they make a good pair.

My biggest hurdle here is the same as in book one, and that is this is a very long story, and I am not sure there is enough happening to support nearly 450 pages of book. It ends up feeling like a lot of filler and repetition. For example, there is a very long period of the book focused on the road trip between Finland and Germany (Tori fears flying, so the guys drive). And while I love a good road trip, this takes up a lot of pages and starts to feel somewhat meandering. When the group finally gets to the castle, there are some nice scenes of Tori working with the other mages, as well as meeting the various other castle residents. But there is still a lot of day-to-day dealings here, without much in the way of action that moves the plot forward. This felt particularly the case given we are two books in, and many of the “day in the life” things we experience here through Tori were already covered in the first story.

It also felt like Tori’s concerns about not being accepted in the Burkhard clan and not being a good enough mage kept coming up again and again. I agree that we needed to see him come to terms with everything he knew being false, so some time to settle into the new reality makes sense. But well into the book, Tori is still constantly second guessing, constantly bringing up again and again whether they really want him, whether he really is a good enough mage, etc, despite being told countless times by countless people. With the length of the book and the slow plot movement, this just added to the sense of a slow pace.

Despite these issues, I still found the story very engaging and I was never bored. I just felt like the book could have been trimmed considerably to really tighten things up and give it some more energy. But I continue to really like these characters and love the world these authors have built. We uncover more about the Jaeggi and what they are up to here and I am very excited to continue on and see what’s next for the series.

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