Seraphina took the literary world by storm with 8 starred reviews and numerous “Best of” lists. At last, her eagerly awaited sequel has arrived—and with it comes an epic battle between humans and dragons. The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways. As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?
Shadow Scale (Seraphina #2)Featured
What Didn’t Work for Me: The book felt way too long for me. Both books in the series were long, but more happened in the first book and I was more engaged than in this one. For characters who are supposed to be in the middle of a dangerous war, there wasn’t any action. Also, Seraphina is supposed to be on this journey to find other half-breeds, but it takes forever for there to be any progress in that area, and when things do happen, it’s not that exciting. When it comes to her facing off against Januola, there wasn’t nearly enough action there either. It felt like it was building up to be something big, but then the ending very anticlimactic. While Hartman does a great job at creating a very vivid picture, it was just too much and often times, unnecessary in my opinion. The pacing was just way to slow for my taste.
Final Verdict: While the pacing leaves a lot to be desired, the story itself is beautiful and compelling. Shadow Scale lets fans of Seraphina see how it all ends for some of their favorite characters.
Shadow Scale features some fantastic characters. First, we continue with the half dragons we have already met - Abdo, Lars and Dame Okra - all phenomenal characters in their own right. Particularly with Dame Okra's sense of wit.
"'Ah children' growled Dame Okra, watching him climb. 'I forget what darlings they are. How I long for the opportunity to forget once more.'"
But, as Seraphina travels we get to encounter even more half-dragons and see how the avatars in her mind garden compare to the actual specimen. It was fascinating to see how the dragon side manifested in each of these people and the different motivations of each. We are also able to see the impact of location and upbringing as we travel from Goredd, where Seraphina hid among the people of the city, to Ninys, where the Ityasaari were banished from society, to Porphyry, where they experienced their own sense of community and family. We also see more of Jannoula, raised in the worse of circumstances and playing her own game with the people, Ityasaari and dragons. We spend a great deal of time trying to ascertain her motivations and whether or not she can be trusted. This adds a sense of intrigue and mystery to the plot.
The story itself lags a little as we get bogged down in several different places. There are instances where Seraphina appears to spend a great deal of time in limbo, never really accomplishing anything and also times when the plot is slowed by a sense of helplessness as Seraphina appears unwilling or incapable of saving the people that she loves. There are also several sections where the author delves into metaphor and introspection, particularly with regard to the inner workings of Seraphina's mind. The whole concept of the mind garden and Jannoula's tethering is confusing at best, and I did find my eyes glazing over when the author tried to explain them. The rest of the plot is much stronger, particularly after Seraphina returns to Goredd and the war approaches.
This being YA, we can't quite escape the love interest aspect, but it is particularly well done in Shadow Scale. Here we see two characters making a conscious choice not to be together because of the pain it will cause someone they both care about. There are also some unexpected surprises to this portion of the plot which were a breath of fresh air to someone who has seen the same old love triangle over and over again. I was also very thankful to Harman for the inclusion of diverse characters - those of color, of all sexualities and even transgendered. Those aspects of the characters are not a plot device, or even their defining characteristic - it is simply part of them being well-developed characters.
Bottom Line: Shadow Scale features some phenomenal characters and an interesting plot. It is an excellent continuation of the story started in Seraphina and, in the end, will leave the reader satisfied, even if we do wish for books in this world.
One of the top things I love about this series, and there are many, is how unabashedly of-the-mind it is. The action scenes take place almost apologetically in the background. That might sound like a criticism, but I really don’t mean it that way at all. Shadow Scale isn’t about physical battles, even though it’s set in the midst of a war, but about the mental ones. Seraphina has to use her intelligence to take on others, but also herself. She’s a heroine who isn’t particularly gifted physically, though her scales can block weapons, and she has some potentially untapped half-dragon abilities.
This comparison’s going to sound really odd, but Shadow Scale reminded me of Death Note. For those who are unfamiliar, Death Note is a manga (or an anime or a live action movie) that centers on the mental face off of two college age geniuses. Lots of people die in the series, but mostly they hardly matter. The series is all about the war of cleverness being waged, and the two know that whoever loses will die. While the battle isn’t quite the same, Seraphina has to find a way to defeat Jannoula, who has great mental strength, with her own mind. This, friends, is a battle of wits, not of might.
Speaking of Jannoula, I love to hate her. So very much. Jannoula sort of came out of nowhere for me as a villain in the series, but I love that she became the enemy, rather than the rival dragons. I am all about powerful, manipulative lady villains, who have pasts and motivations. She manages to be thoroughly evil, but also a bit sympathetic, which is what makes a great villain. The fact that the drama isn’t physical and in your face might make the book slow for some, but I adore stories like this and I had no desire to read any other books once I got about fifty pages into Shadow Scale.
I truly cannot get enough of how many powerful female characters there are in this fantasy world. Jannoula, obviously, is incredibly powerful mentally. Seraphina herself has a much less obvious power, but it is there. She’s also incredibly talented with her music, able to make people feel with her. In Shadow Scale, Glisselda has to rule, while her grandmother lies in a sick bed, and she really steps up. In Seraphina, Glisselda was smart, but she was very young and did not seem ready for that much responsibility. In Shadow Scale, she proves that she has what it takes, helped by the support of her friends. There are others too, like Eskar, of the dragons. There are strong women in each society.
In Shadow Scale, Seraphina travels around the neighboring kingdoms looking for the other half-dragons. I was a bit worried about this, since it would take Seraphina away from Kiggs and everything that I knew. Actually, when she left, that’s when the book really took off for me. Hartman builds such disparate cultures, all with their own mores and social systems. Though these countries are closely tied together in certain ways, with a shared history, they differ so greatly in others; they all revere the same saints, but they take the teachings in very different ways, as is shown in the various reactions to half-dragons. The cultures are beautiful, and I’d dearly love another book set in Porphyry about an older Abdo. *coughs*
The plot ran in really unexpected directions. I’m torn between thinking that it was somewhat anticlimactic and feeling that the unique way it wrapped up was perfection. Everything that happens very much fits within the kind of series that Seraphina is. It’s very much an atypical plot resolution, but I think it works for how everything else goes. It fits. That said, I do have some questions remaining. I also love that the series ended on Seraphina’s relationship with Orma, because, despite romance and friendships, Orma’s the most important in Seraphina’s life. Their relationship is so sweet and feelsy and gah. It’s when the dragons, who disdain emotion, feel things that I become a ball of emotion.
Obviously, there’s one thing left I need to talk about, which is the romance. Well, no, two things. First, I want to praise Rachel Hartman for the inclusion of a transgender character in a fantasy, and I love the conversation that Seraphina has with the character and how very open Porphyrian society is to people gendering themselves. It’s truly beautiful. Also truly beautiful is the way that the drama between Kiggs and Seraphina wraps up. They’ve been keeping their relationship secret from his fiancé, Glisselda, but everyone’s actually really mature about it, and I love Rachel Hartman for the resolution.
Shadow Scale may be massive, but it warrants the length. Hartman adds a whole new cast of characters, and they’re all fabulous. This is a must read series for those who like brainy, thought-twisting reads, and for those looking for diverse, feminist literature. Rachel Hartman is confirmed as one of my favorite authors, and I cannot wait for her next book. *coughs* Seriously, teenage Abdo. *coughs*
While readers met a few other half-dragons in SERAPHINA, I was dying to meet them all. Rachel Hartman delivered with SHADOW SCALE.
Seraphina has to gather the half-dragons she's only seen in her mind together to protect her beloved country and her friends. This task takes her across the land, visiting all the countries we heard about in the first novel. I loved this expansion of the world. Each country and its people were so unique that I wanted to find out more about them all. I loved Porphyry in particular. Her journey also brings her face-to-face with the other half-dragons. I loved how every one was different.
While Seraphina came to terms with what she was in the first novel, and found somewhere she felt at home, in this story she faces who she is as a person. Her journey tries her patience at times and reveals truths about herself that she's been avoiding.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The pacing in this novel was less engaging than I was expecting. I was fully engrossed in SERAPHINA from page one, but while reading this novel, I found my attention wandering occasionally. There were lulls in between the action that pulled me out of the story.
The Final Verdict:
SHADOW SCALE is a fascinating sequel that expands on the world readers fell in love with in SERAPHINA.