Review: Shadow Scale (Seraphina #2) by Rachel Hartman

shadowSeraphina 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?

Check out my review of Seraphina, book one!

“However strenuously the world pulls us apart, however long the absence, we are not changed for being dashed upon the rocks. I knew you then, I know you now, I shall know you again when you come home.”

Shadow Scale is in a lot of ways everything Seraphina isn’t. Some reviewers have found fault in the fact that the two books differed from each other; Rachel Hartman says that when writing Shadow Scale she was interested in exploring different questions than those she explored in Seraphina (source). But that is the very reason I loved it so much. Often sequels fail for me because no matter how good they are, they are simply a continuation of the first book and don’t offer anything new or different. Well, Shadow Scale certainly isn’t lacking on new. And though I love Seraphina more, it is by a very small margin.

Seraphina, as the title suggests, is centered around Seraphina’s story. She is the focus of the story; events revolve around her. At least, she thinks she is. The story is told from her point of view after all. In Shadow Scale, Seraphina begins to realize that the war is far beyond her control, and it is reflected in the fact that she is no longer the most important character. She plays a crucial role, but she is far from being at the center of events. In fact, Seraphina at the end Shadow Scale is a lot less selfish and entitled. She understands that a lot of life is out of her control and is okay with that. Other aspects of her personality also mature in subtle ways, as is befitting such a complex character.

While Seraphina is is a tightly plotted story in the court of Goredd, Shadow Scale is a vast and sweeping story extending to Ninys, Samsam, Porphyry and the Tanamoot. The worlds that were only briefly touched upon are more fully explored and are revealed to be rich in culture and history. There is some discussion on how the Southern states came to be, the tensions between humans and dragons and such. With this comes some interesting comments on society and how a lack of knowledge is connected to a fear of those who are different.

Perhaps the main difference was the inclusion of mind-fire. I will admit that I found it a bit disturbing at first as there was no mention of this in book one, but it grew on me quickly as it is what really made this book unique. It is also what ties together all the events in Shadow Scale: it enables Seraphina to search for the other Ityasaari, it is connected to the villain, becomes a key factor in the war and serves as a continuation of the themes of the power of the mind found in Seraphina. 

Speaking of the Ityasaari, there is a new cast of characters in Shadow Scale. Nedouard was a particular favourite, but none of them could surpass my love for Abdo and Orma.

The ending of the novel contained both the resolution to the plot and of Serphina’s personal struggles. The last part of the novel was, in fact, my favourite part of the story. It was a breathtaking conclusion to Serpahina’s story and ended in the best way possible. There is a lot of unconventionality in the story, particularly surrounding the resolution of the love triangle and I love it. Not everything is resolved either, the epilogue is open ended, sad but filled with hope. In short, it ends perfectly.

I am so so sad that this series is over, and I only wish the books could have been much much longer so I could have spent more time in Serphina’s world. I know Hartman is going to be writing other stories set in the same world, but I don’t know how I feel about that. Anyways, Seraphina and Shadow Scale are insanely good fantasy novels and I highly, highly recommend this brilliant duology.

“It looked like our gods, to me – not literally, not in the way they’re depicted in statues, but the vibrant space between them, where Necessity is Chance and Chance flows into Necessity. The world is as it must be, and as it happens to be, and those are the same thing, connected and right, and you understand and love all of it, because you are all of it, and all of it is you.”


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