Shadow Scale, Rachel Hartman’s sequel to 2012’s Seraphina, was released months ago and I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner. It’s full of dragons and music, adventure and magic, and it’s the first book in a long time where I kept counting to see how many pages were left; not because I wanted to finish, but because I knew I was running out of time to stay in the book. I was honestly sad when it was over.
In Seraphina’s world, humans have had an uneasy truce with dragons for decades. In the kingdom of Goredd dragons are barely tolerated (but only in their human-like saarantras form). Humans have trouble seeing dragons as anything other than unpredictable predators, and dragons believe humans are too emotional to be trusted. There’s a whole religious movement on the human side, preaching against dragons, and there’s an entire scientific art on the dragons side that specializes in surgically removing emotions from dragons who’ve become “too human.”
The idea of a human-dragon crossbreed makes both races uncomfortable, which is why Seraphina, a half-dragon living in secret, is in such a precarious position.
Or rather, was in a precarious position. In the first book she and several other half-dragons help stop an assassination and protect the city of Goredd from both humans and dragons that want to destroy the treaty and start the wars all over again. It was a temporary victory unfortunately, as both anti-human dragons and anti-dragon humans are still pushing for war.
For her part in uncovering the plot, Seraphina is (mostly) respected even though everyone knows she’s part dragon. It helps that the young Queen Glisselda trusts her friend implicitly, and so does the Queen’s fiance Prince Lucian.
It doesn’t help that Seraphina and Lucian have fallen in love, but won’t pursue it because they love Glisselda too much to hurt her. So one secret’s out in the open while another one stays hidden.
Shadow Scale begins as Seraphina starts out on a quest to find the other half-dragons, ityasaari. She has a strange mental connection to them and grew up having debilitating visions of them, visions that took years of mental training to lock away. Unfortunately she may have locked up too much of herself and her powers, since every other half-dragon’s mental light blazes out to anyone who knows how to look for it, while hers stays dark.
It’s interesting that she spent years of her life wishing she was more human, and now she feels like she’s maybe not enough dragon. She’s aware of the irony.
The story travels all over Hartman’s world, to mountains and swamps and tropical islands (that last one has the biggest library in the world, meaning it was my favorite spot) meeting people who treat half-dragons with worship, and people who lock them in dungeons so they can perform experiments on them.
The writing is extremely clever. The descriptions of people and places are amazingly detailed, without slowing the story down. The dialog can be both stirring and powerful in the dramatic scenes, and quippy and funny in the quiet moments. Seraphina is plagued by self-doubt, but she’s doing much better than how she was in the first book, and can hold her own in a battle of sass with anyone who underestimates her.
The dragons themselves are wonderful. Hartman describes them so well you can see every pose, landing, and transformation to and from their human forms.
The ending was very satisfying, if a little sad. I’d say it wrapped up everything pretty neatly, but a little part of me is hoping for more. That’s pretty greedy of me since this book was close to 600 pages, I just didn’t want it to end.