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!(: