Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
I think it may be quicker for me to review a sequel. I'll still write too much, as I always do, but I'll think of what I want to say faster than usual. So really, this is all going to be basically the same. Except I'll assume you've read Seraphina, which I really liked, and that you are already familiar with Ms. Hartman's writing, which I also really dig. So you'll know what to expect from Shadow Scale. Another interesting (to me) point - I received Shadow Scale as an advanced reader’s copy, just by requesting it from the publisher. And since it was book two of the series, I had to hurry up and read Seraphina so I could get to Shadow Scale. I’m so glad I read both.

First off, in Shadow Scale, I missed the focus on music, which was very prominent in the first novel. Seraphina still plays her flute from time to time but there are no grand performances or musical interludes which Ms. Hartman describes so magnificently. Perhaps music just didn't fit into the new plot as much because Seraphina is on an important road trip for most of the book. Which means, I guess, she didn't have a lot of time to unwind and play some tunes. I wish she had, though, because the music bits were probably my favorite parts from the novel Seraphina.

In Shadow Scale, Seraphina spends a good deal of time dealing with her mind garden as she attempts to track down all her kindred half-dragons. Her goal is to unite them all to help defend her hometown Goredd from the ever growing dragon civil war. I enjoyed this quite a bit because the mind garden/mental meditation bits from the first book were my second favorite thing, after the musical descriptions. Ms. Hartman has created such a well thought out, masterfully written, highly intriguing concept with Seraphina's mind garden. And the way she uses meditation to gather and communicate with the ityasaari (the book's word for a half-human/half-dragon) is fascinating. I really appreciate the effort the author went through to formulate a full plan for this and describe it so tightly and completely. It would have been very easy to say that Seraphina meditates about the others and talks to them in her mind and then just skirt around the details and have tons of holes in the idea. But Rachel Hartman does not do this, she respects readers enough to give them a full picture of a complex system and I applaud her efforts.

It’s worth mentioning that the unrequited romance stuff is still there between Seraphina and Prince Lucian Kiggs. As in the first book, I was fine with this and it didn't really add or take away any enjoyment for me. The romance angle did bring some tension to Shadow Scale though and it initiated a seemingly pretty big reveal in the book. Actually, looking back, this moment I’m thinking (can’t describe it, don’t want to spoil!) seemed important, but then Ms. Hartman kind of left things hanging. Perhaps the love triangle between ‘Phina, Kiggs and Queen Glisselda will wrap up in the next book. I mention it here because if you like some crush/love interest in your books, Shadow Scale has it.

The only minor disappointment I have with this book is the quick, semi-abrupt ending. Shadow Scale is quite long (my paperback ARC was 589 pgs!) and slow moving with not a lot of action. It is driven mostly by character, voice and beautiful writing - all of which Ms. Hartman has plenty of to share with us. Abdo, Seraphina, Kiggs, Eskar...they are all wonderful and fascinating, as are the new ityasaari introduced in this second book. As I read along, I had a strong "Empire Strikes Back" vibe from this sequel, believe it or not. Seraphina is out there, trying to build up a rebellion but things are not going great for her. All her friends are spread over Ms. Hartman's smartly imagined fantasy world and a dark force is working against her, slowly but surely capturing her allies and turning them against her. This evil presence is Jannoula, the worst kind of villain who's more of a powerful, unstoppable psychological threat than a physical one. So I assumed all along, like in "Empire", that the book would end on a downer note and set us up for a big comeback victory in a third installment. Not so much.

Shadow Scale wraps up with an epic battle, some startling revelations and quite a lot of nicely described action. But as I mentioned earlier, it does so very quickly and rather suddenly. It wasn't a bad ending, it just felt rushed a little "too easy" maybe, based on the difficulties Seraphina and the others suffered throughout most of the novel. I do think there is going to be a third book, since trilogies are kind of the way to go these days, and I don't have a clue as to the direction Ms. Hartman will take us because of the way things resolved in Shadow Scale. But I will certainly be interested to find out.

Seraphina and Shadow Scale are both excellent books with complex but enjoyable plots and a myriad of diverse, entertaining characters. I like them mainly because of Ms. Hartman's superb writing and the obvious effort she went to in giving us a readers a complete and full picture of Seraphina's physical and mental struggles and her adventures. I just really admire how the author carefully planned her fantasy world and her mind garden meditation system, then executed her writing so effectively. I said it earlier and I'll say it again, I applaud and appreciate the skillful work she presents. I definitely recommend both books for high school readers and adults who like fantasy novels with a complex psychological edge to them.

Happy Reading!

Here's my write-up on Seraphina