Thursday, March 5, 2015

ARC Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Title: Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2) 

Author: Rachel Hartman 

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: March 10th, 2015

When it comes to Shadow Scale, I confess I remain conflicted. Hartman's highly anticipated sequel to Seraphina is the type of novel I've gone and pinned all my hopes and dreams on. I loved Seraphina like I've loved few other books when I first read it and its beauty never dwindled upon my multiple re-reads. Thus, I expected to adore Shadow Scale just as much as I loved its predecessor. Unfortunately, though Shadow Scale is a beautifully written sequel and a truly impeccable ending to this unexpected duet, I still have a qualm too many with it.

Shadow Scale picks up roughly three months after the events of Seraphina which the country on the verge of civil war. Queen Glissenda and Prince Lucian Kiggs send Seraphina on a mission to gather all the half-dragons she possibly can as magical abilities only they possess may be the key to winning a war against dragons. The first half of Shadow Scale is devoted to Seraphina's journey as she travels the kingdom in search of other half-dragons. Hartman's world-building truly shines within these pages for every region of this fictional country is teeming with its own customs, religion, and bias. Everywhere Seraphina travels, she is treated differently as a half-dragon and, what's more, the other half-dragons she meets have endured circumstances far removed from her own. Though Seraphina expects to gather a group of people who can instantly connect to one another due to their shared experiences, the reality is far more complex than she can imagine. Building upon Seraphina's insecurities from its predecessor, Shadow Scale continues to challenge Seraphina to think beyond her own life experiences and bind these half-dragons for the betterment, not only of her nation, but of her own heart as well.

Hartman infuses each of these half-dragons with personalities so distinct that getting to know them feels like falling in love with aspects of Seraphina herself. From living in her mind's garden, there is already such a strong link between the strangers Seraphina meets and our beloved heroine herself and though the first half of this novel feels slow, in many ways, as it is the build-up to the tension in the last half, it is also necessary. Despite tackling such a large host of characters, most of them newly introduced in Shadow Scale, Hartman maneuvers them with ease and the end result--the reader feeling just as close with nearly ten half-dragons as Seraphina does--is remarkable.

Yet, the first half is not merely about Seraphina discovering and meeting these half-dragons. No, Hartman introduces our villain into these first few hundred pages as well and the depth and moral ambiguity she is given from the start makes Shadow Scale a fascinating read. Jannoula, a half-dragon with the capacity to take over the minds of other half-dragons, is both pitiable and dangerous. As Seraphina travels, finding new half-dragons every region she goes to, she also discovers that many of these half-dragons have been possessed by Jannoula who has her own agenda. Though she claims to want to help Seraphina gather the half-dragons, her unwillingness to let go of their minds is frightening, particularly as neither Seraphina nor any other half-dragon knows how to fight her and combat her powers.

Jannoula's shadow follows Seraphina on her journeys in Shadow Scale and as the tensions come to a head during the last half of the novel--Seraphina fighting to discover where her uncle Orma is, the half-dragons attempting to expel Jannoula from their minds, the civil war creeping closer to home--Hartman proves her incredible ability to write. Just as with Seraphina, I couldn't predict the plot twists revealed in the second half of this narrative and the resolution reached by the end was truly satisfying. Moreover, I loved the heart-breaking plot line concerning Seraphina's uncle, Orma. Within the pages of Shadow Scale is a rare epilogue that is truly wonderful. Although I didn't expect, at first, for Shadow Scale to be the end of this short series, I couldn't have asked for a better ending to the duet and Hartman's scope of imagination has convinced me that she will--hopefully!--return to this world as there remain many stories left to be told.

Where my disappointments with this narrative arise, however, are with the romance. Shadow Scale could have easily simply been the first half of itself, forcing readers to wait for a third novel to discover how the plot thickened and came to a resolution. By choosing to write a duet, Hartman allows her plot to thrive as readers are able to witness the back-to-back nature of the tensions at once instead of with a year in-between. Yet, the rich relationships developed in Seraphina between our heroine and her friend, Queen Glissenda, or her lover, Lucian Kiggs, are minimal as a result. At just over 600 pages, it would be remiss, likely, of Hartman to extend her narrative for the sake of the romance. Nevertheless, I wish that was the route at hand.

I was incredibly invested in the romance outlined in Seraphina and though it reaches a conclusion--of sorts--in Shadow Scale, it also leaves many unanswered questions. Moreover, the interactions between Kiggs and Seraphina in Shadow Scale, though full of the intelligent conversation these two adore and incredibly supportive, lacked the longing I felt palpable in Seraphina. Kiggs isn't a significant character in this plot line and though he is important to Seraphina, there are so many other characters--half-dragons and dragons alike--that her relationship with him doesn't pierce the heart. I wanted much, much more on the romance front, particularly due to some last-minute revelations that were sprung upon readers. Especially because Hartman tells us that there has been much discussion as to matters of the heart but the reader is not privy to these discussions and, on the love story angle, I needed more closure.

With such a large host of characters, Hartman managed to make Shadow Scale an incredible novel with distinct character personalities and relationships. I only wish the few we had seen develop in depth in Seraphina continue to be as strong in this sequel. While Seraphina was a distinctly character-driven tale, Shadow Scale is more firmly plot-driven. Nevertheless, Hartman accomplishes so much with this sequel. From her world-building to her plot development and beyond to the diversity of race, sex, and gender that she includes within these pages, Shadow Scale feels revolutionary. For fans of Seraphina this one is worth waiting for, minor disappointments and all.

A huge thank you to Lauren @ Love is Not a Triangle for lending me her ARC of this novel. If not for her, I'd have likely gone insane waiting for this sequel. Thank you, Lauren!(:


  1. I started reading this last night, I hope I'll like it!
    I want more "dragons" and the romance.. yeah, what you said about it kind of disappointed me already because it was so so good in the first novel but we'll see! :)

  2. So many people love this series, I really do need to get into gear and try it!
    Lovely review!! :D

  3. I haven't read this series, but I'm glad to see that you really liked it for the most part. I think a friend of mine would really enjoy it - she's a big fan of dragons.

  4. There is nothing worse than being disappointed in a much-anticipated instalment. Though, it doesn't sound like this was such a hopeless case, so I think fans would be satisfied, anyway? :) I don't know. I haven't read this one, but it's not really my thing.

  5. I feel like one of my great YA reading failures is not loving Seraphina more. I just couldn't connect to the characters at all, but I'm so happy to hear that the story has held up for you over multiple readings. I was considering trying to re-read Seraphina and get into this one, but I think I just need to let it go. The romance was something that was tough for me in the first one and was hoping for more with it, but if that is one of your major disappointments, it doesn't bode well for me. I'm glad you've' found the world building and culture to be rich, and that overall this was a satisfying read for you.

  6. Yes, I loved everything about this one except the romance. I didn't like how it was "solved" either. Still, it only took a 1/2 star off for me. I really loved the duology!

  7. bah you would think because I love dragons I would have read this series by now. I'm glad you still managed to enjoy this installment!

  8. Sorry to hear this wasn't quite up to your expectations. Especially since the romance was one of the issues. As you know the romance is very important to me, so it's disappointing to hear this. I'll have to check this series out someday. Wonderful review, Keertana! :)

  9. Thanks for writing such an insightful review, Keertana! It looks like this book did some things right, and did some things... not wrong, but more into a direction not many may prefer. I'm glad to see that overall you loved it, though. I still need to finish the first book... I don't remember why I stopped, but I do remember being in awe of the writing!

    Faye at The Social Potato

  10. Oh boy. Well I have a copy of this because like you I have been waiting and waiting for the sequel to Seraphina. I'm so disappointed to hear that the romance falls flat and is sort of inconsequential in Shadow Scale! I really loved Kiggs and Seraphina. After their romance I think one of my favorite things was Orma. Gosh I just loved him--one of my fave secondaries ever. So I really want to read and discover what happens with him but I just don't know that I can get over the romantic fizzle-out you mention. BUMMER. But wow I appreciate your ever honest reviews, K! :)

  11. I seemed to really have struggled with this book a bit, whilst I adored Seraphina, this one just really took me a while to get into a connect with the characters. I do love the vivid descriptions and gorgeous writing that Hartman put into this book, but I just wanted to find myself invested in this book from the beginning. I'm glad to see that you enjoyed this one though Keertana, minor issues aside. Gorgeous review!

  12. Beautiful review Keertana! I haven't read Seraphina, but I've heard mixed things about it, including people being in the middle of the spectrum. Iknow that people sort of struggled to get into the first book, but this book sounds amazing and the cover is gorgeous as well!


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