Thursday, March 19, 2015

Shadow Scale

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars, actually.

This is the sequel to Seraphina, and if you haven't read that one, go read it before reading this one. It's really an absolute must. Go ahead. I'll wait. ;-)

OK, now that you've read Seraphina (wasn't it great?), let's talk about the sequel. I was almost afraid to read this one, because I enjoyed the first one so much! Often, a sequel is just the author rehashing themes and characters from the first book. That is definitely not the case with Shadow Scale - it is much broader in scope, and a much more ambitions book, overall. And it succeeds on almost every level. I was completely absorbed by it - devouring it over a couple of days, and then wandering about in a 'book hangover' afterwards. I was almost shocked to realize that I didn't live in Goredd!

This book picks up right where the first one left off: Seraphina has been revealed to be half-dragon; a faction of dragons who do not want continued peace with humans has staged a coup, leading to a civil war; humans must prepare to fight dragons again, and to aid in that, Seraphina must find the other denizens of her 'mind garden', who are also half-dragons, so they can create a mind weapon against the dragons. And the love triangle still exists: Kiggs, the captain of the guard and betrothed to Giselle, the queen, is still in love with Seraphina, and vice versa. But the big development in this book is the re-emergence of Jannoula, a troubled and troublesome resident in Seraphina's mind garden. Seraphina had successfully 'locked her up' in the first book, but Jannoula finds ways out, and becomes the major villain in this book.

Seraphina's journey to find the others of her kind takes us all over the Southlands, each country of which is very fully developed by Hartman, as is each new half-breed we discover. These new characters are as distinct and different as can be, each with his or her own manifestation of dragon-ness. But not all desire to help, having managed to carve out a niche in society. Jannoula, however, is also doing her own style of 'recruiting', coming into direct conflict with Seraphina. Everything comes to a head at the end, with a satisfying conclusion. (It doesn't appear there will be a 3rd book in the series, unless things change from the status quo achieved at the end.)

Paralleling Seraphina's physical journey is her mental journey, as she discovers more about her mind garden, more about Jannoula's place in it, and more about how it is actually hindering her. She is also forced to realize that her motivations for 'saving' the other half-dragons were shallow, and self-serving. She thought she would be coming in as some sort of savior, but many of them did not need or want 'saving.' This is just one of many areas where we see characters growing and changing - and not just Seraphina. We finally learn Jannoula's past, and discover why she acts the way she does. I really liked the fact that the villain of the book was not just 'evil' but was acting out of what had happened in her life - much like real people do.

The themes of the first book - friendship, self-discovery and acceptance, fear and hatred of 'the other' - are broadened and deepened in this book. And the exploration of what motivates people (dragon, human, half-dragon) is rich and multifaceted. This is more than an adventure story.

One could think of Seraphina (the book) as a small string quartet: very intimate, with only a few major players, but hints of bigger themes. If that's the case, then Shadow Scale is a symphony! In book one, the action takes place exclusively in Goredd, and mostly in the city of Lavondaville. In the sequel, we get a tour of all the Southlands, as Seraphina goes on her quest. And instead of just a few main characters, there are dozens - human, dragon and half-dragon. But Hartman does a masterful job of introducing each one, and there is never a time of "Wait? Which one is this, again?" The major thematic developments are also symphonic in scope. This is definitely a magum opus!

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