Book – Beneath the Scales (The Knowledge Effect, #1)
Author – Aurora Peppermint
Star rating - ★★★★☆
No. of Pages – 150
Cover – Perfect!
POV – 3rd person, single POV
Would I read it again – Yes
Genre – LGBT, Fantasy, Dragon/Shifter, YA
I bought this book a while back, when I first saw the cover, read the blurb and knew that I wanted to read it. Then, due to other distractions, I never really got around to reading it and the ratings of reviews slowly crept down and down, with everyone saying it wasn't good. It made me scared to read it. Then book 2 came up for review and I thought it was the perfect time to sit down, read it and make my own opinion; the review deadline would force me to bite the bullet, in other words.
So, verdict? If you can't tell from my 4 stars, I really liked it. I've read some of the negative reviews and, honestly, I find them a little petty. This is clearly advertised as book 1 in a series, it's a YA romance written by a teenager. What you're going to get is a book that is PG13 and setting up the characters for future adventures/escapades. It's not all going to be forced into the first book, especially one that is just 150 pages.
In fact, I was so shocked by how quickly I ran through it than I noted that it felt shorted than those 150 pages. The writing is simple, effective and to the point; there's no pointless flooding of information or description that bogs the story down. Every plot point, every twist, is given for a reason and to further the overall plot of the book. It didn't need to be more than 150 pages, because that's all the story called for. And I like that. There's nothing more annoying than reading a book full of filler scenes or information dumps.
When it comes to the writing, it was great. Not only for the reasons above, but for the talent and sophistication of the writing. I know some adults who could do well taking some lessons from Peppermint about what is and isn't necessary when trying to tell a story. The characterisation was a little thing, but otehrwise nicely handled. We learned about things like Martus' background and the truth about dragons and Hal's background in a nice organic way, told when it was necessary, where it fitted in and in a way that didn't feel forced or in a way that spoiled a later reveal.
I liked Martus from the beginning. He was an intriguing character, with a far from clean cut past and alone in the world, left as a teenager raising a young girl. It bothered me a little that we never found out how old Elsaben was, mainly because at times she read like a 3-4 year old but spoke like she was 10. Some parts of her characterisation didn't add up to a complete picture for me, so that contributed to the 4 instead of 5 star rating. However, Martus was well explored, through thoughts, feelings, his own POV taking prominence and his progression through the story from staunch hater of dragons to a protector.
Similarly, I loved Hal and how innocent he was, that he didn't recognise sarcasm, that he hated who and what he was. There was a lot about him that we never found out, but I have to admit that I like that. It's natural to not know a lot about him because he and Martus have barely spent enough time together to know each other that well and, with Martus giving his POV, it would be illogical and impossible to find out all about Hal without their progressing friendship. However, I imagine and hope that book 2 will be more about Hal and perhaps even in his POV. I'm willing to wait to read book 2, to find out if that's the case, before judging this book on that issue.
The minor characters of the villagers, Elsaben and Anne, are all interesting and do their bit to push the story where it needs to be. I do think it spent a little too long on Martus' journey through the woods, after leaving Hal's home for the first time. I also find it a little too convenient that a woman as alone as Anne, in the middle of nowhere and close to a forest, would so willingly and unquestioningly bring Martus into her home, tell him to read a book while she cooks him food, and then travels a great distance alone with him, all based on the fact that he's just a boy. I know that she considers him innocent and alone, but as a teenager in the world that Martus has already introduced us to, it seemed a little too contrived to make sense that she would trust him so readily. Especially since we'd just read him defending himself against six grown men.
When it comes to the issue of dragons, I don't have the problem other people seem to have with this story. I've read plenty of shifter stories – some adult and some YA – where the character is a shifter but you never actually see it happen on page. When I first read that in a review, I thought it meant that there were actually no dragons, at all, in the story. However, that's not the case. Just because we don't see Hal turn into and from a dragon to a human, doesn't mean it doesn't happen and it doesn't mean it's not an important part of the story. Actually, it's the most important part, because he doesn't want to be a dragon! Not when it makes him hurt people, so it felt right that Hal never made an on-page shift from one to the other. Again, it's also logical because we only ever get Martus' POV and he wasn't there when Elsaben saw Hal shift.
As for the romance, it felt natural and right that nothing happened on that front until the 97% mark, which is basically the last few pages. Until that point, Martus and Hal were getting to know each other, really only spending the equivalent of 4-5 days together and not always under the best of circumstances. There was some minor flirting between them, which surprised me a little because Martus was made out to be a serious seducer, but it was a nice, slow progression from strangers to friends, then friends to 'it's complicated'. Which is how the book ends. Considering it's YA, as young/chaste and innocent as it could be, in terms of what Hal and Martus share and feel for each other, the level of romance and the way it happened was perfect.
Overall, I feel like this is a book that has an unfairly bad reputation (according to Goodreads reviews). It's exactly what it says in the blurb and on the cover. Neither the author nor the book can be blamed for readers walking into it with expectations that aren't met.
For me, it lived up to what I hoped for. It had a bit of action, a bit of romance, and a solid storyline that makes me interested in reading book 2. The world building was handled well, with just enough of a tease of more to keep me hooked for another book. With the hint of more romance, more adventures and probably another visit to Hal's dragon friend in the future, I'm sure it's going to be great.
“In all his years of fighting, Martus had never been faced with a man so desperate to be hurt that he was almost crying over the fact.”