Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Publication Year: 2015
Genre: YA Fantasy
Series: Seraphina #2
Narrator:W. Morgan Sheppard
This was one of my most highly anticipated releases for 2015. The first book Seraphina was the first YA novel I read that I really loved and was one of my top ten reads of 2013. Shadow Scale had a lot to live up to in my mind and while it certainly maintains the complex realistic characters and fascinating world-building, this book never quite captured my interest like the first book did.
Synopsis: At the end of the first book Seraphina's secrets have been revealed and the royal family of Goredd has been devastated which thrusts Seraphina's friends Glisselda and Lucian Kiggs into roles of heavy responsibility. Seraphina wants to help them but is also consumed by the idea of connecting with other half-dragons in the world thinking she can track them down using the inexplicable mental connection she has with them. When it appears that bringing all the half dragons together could actually help protect Goredd from the imminent invasion of rebel dragons - Seraphina sets off to search for them all and bring them together. But a new enemy has unexpectedly appeared and gains in power until she seems impossible to defeat.
While all of the action in the first book took place in the Capitol of Goredd, Shadow Scale widens the scope to epic levels by following Seraphina as she travels through all the major countries of the world looking for the denizens of her mental garden. All of the new settings are well developed and feel real, each with its own culture and prejudices against the few half dragons in their midst. Seraphina's quest to find and gather the other half dragons is presented as the emotionally complicated thing it is. Seraphina has spent all her life feeling alone and different and she imagines the others feel this way too. She frames it in her mind as a selfless quest to help others but she is forced to confront that it is equally motivated by a selfish wish to belong and have others like her around.
The new villain that appears is equally complex and ties in to Seraphina's feelings of alienation. Jannoula claims to have the same goal as Seraphina and in a way she does but her upbringing has not provided her with the same sense of what is right and wrong. Her methods are deliciously insidious and her entrance into Seraphina's life is described in a way that gave me chills. In a way Jannoula is what Seraphina could be if she had not had her uncle and her music. Jannoula is hard to feel sorry for in the end but she's a worthy and interesting villain even if she does sort of appear out of nowhere and take over the story.
Another thing I loved about Seraphina, that is continued in Shadow Scale, is an overall theme of acceptance and tolerance. There is the obvious point being made about prejudice against the half dragons that is irrational and is belied by the fact that half dragons played a crucial role in society's history. Also Seraphina's vision of a utopia for the half dragons never happens - Seraphina must accept that not everyone has the same needs as she and her vision was in essence a selfish one. She must also face her own prejudices as she is somewhat put off by the less human looking half dragons. Finally, the book presents many different kinds of relationships, all of them valid.
Taken as a whole it's a good book that continues and wraps up the story presented in Seraphina quite well. You can feel the "but" coming though can't you? I was ultimately a little disappointed. This was still very much Seraphina's story but somehow it felt less personal. The scope was opened up to allow more characters and broader view of the world but we lost Orma and much of Kiggs. Seraphina is mostly interacting with strangers, or characters we just met and I missed the cozier feel of the first book. It's like that awkward transition when a TV show set in high school tries to transition its characters into college and it just doesn't work anymore. The setting and world is just too different to have the same feel and it didn't totally work for me here. It's exacerbated a little because for the first time in her life Seraphina doesn't have to hide and she has in fact found a happy place as a trusted adviser to the Goreddi Court and Queen Glisselda. So the tension of her character is completely thrown off and different and didn't feel quite right. She has new inner and outer conflicts of course but I found them much less compelling.
The other major problem I think the book suffered from wonky pacing. This book was longer than Serphina and it really felt like it and not in a great way. It was slow and baggy in places, almost repetitive and then, in the end, gets wrapped up quite quickly and easily. Seriously, once Jannoula is dealt with, very conveniently I might add, the war against the dragons is wrapped up in what feels like a couple of paragraphs. And it's not just the big conflicts that end up getting short schrift in favor of developing Jannoula. Kiggs and Seraphina's relationship which I was a big fan of in Seraphina felt shoe-horned in, in Shadow Scale. I'm glad it didn't take over, and perhaps this is getting back to my disappointment at Seraphina interacting mostly with a bunch of characters we don't know, I would have liked them to have had a little more screen time together.
I've tried to point out some places where Shadow Scale fell down though I am not sure they add up to much and really I think it comes down to my having HUGE and likely unfair expectations of the book. I wanted another book just like Seraphina and was too rigid in that desire that I couldn't quite go with this book's differences. The point being, some of my disappointment is certainly my own fault. However, I stand by the criticisms I've mentioned and do believe they made this a less enjoyable book than its predecessor.
FINAL VERDICT: Jeezo Flip, I hated writing this review! Shadow Scale is a fine but, ultimately for me, disappointing follow up to Seraphina. 3.5 out of 5 Stars.