Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Book Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Pros: excellent world-building, interesting and varied characters, political intrigue 

Cons: less mystery, Seraphina misses some obvious connections 

With the dragons fighting a civil war and Comonot living in exile in the palace, things in Goredd remain tense.  When word of a possible half-dragon mind weapon is uncovered, Seraphina is sent to find the others from her ‘mind garden’ and bring them back with her.  She’s also tasked with sending aid in the form of men and supplies from the southern states she’ll be travelling through.  But her task is hard and her allies few, especially when a powerful figure from her past reappears.

This is the sequel to Seraphina, a novel I thoroughly enjoyed.  For those who read Seraphina a long time ago, there’s a fantastic summary at the beginning going over all the important elements of the previous book.  I really wish more series books would do this.  

While Seraphina had elements of mystery and romance, Shadow Scale is more of a quest story, with Seraphina combing the world for others of her kind.  I have to admit I missed the interplay between Seraphina and Kiggs, who stayed behind as she travelled.  While I enjoyed the whole book (seeing how other lands functioned was really interesting), I liked the second half the best.  Porphyry was really fun, especially their contempt for the more barbaric southlands, which put the protagonist in the position of being the uncouth foreigner.  The second half is also when the villain’s actions start to have real effects on the story.

There’s a wide variety of characters, humans (from 4 distinct cultures), dragons, half-humans, quigutl (draconic cousins), as well as people from different statuses and belief structures.  Another thing I loved about Porphyry was the complexity of its language - that it has six genders and seven cases and that “[y]ou use cosmic neuter for a stranger, …  And he’s a stranger until you’ve asked, ‘How may I pronoun you?’” (p207).  I love the idea that this culture allows people to choose their own gender and form of address, and that you ask people when you meet, how they prefer to be addressed.

As with the previous book Seraphina is forced to grow as a person.  As her dearest wish becomes a nightmare, she’s forced to make difficult decisions.  There were a few times when she misses what seemed like obvious connections, but she’s 16 and in some of those cases the final result wasn’t quite what I’d expected either.

There’s a decent amount of political intrigue.  I loved that though Seraphina was travelling and time was obviously passing, her communications with Queen Glisselda reminded her - and the reader - that things were happening elsewhere in the world.  While some action happens off page, there’s enough on page to keep you invested in the story and the end of the book will have you flipping pages pretty fast to see how things are resolved.  While the ending doesn’t tie up everything, it’s a satisfying conclusion to the duology.

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