Monday, April 6, 2015

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Title: Shadow Scale
Author: Rachel Hartman
Random House Children's Books
Release Date:
March 10, 2015

Cover Impressions: These covers are so intricate.  I can't help but stare at all the little details and I love the color.  I wonder if the physical copy has the iridescence that the Seraphina re-do did.

The Gist:
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?

Shadow Scale continues the story of half-dragon, Seraphina as she seeks out others of her kind and endeavors to find a way to save her home from the fallout of a dragon civil war.  Seraphina still struggles with who she is as she travels the region meeting hatred in some and acceptance in others.  
Shadow Scale features some fantastic characters.  First, we continue with the half dragons we have already met - Abdo, Lars and Dame Okra - all phenomenal characters in their own right.  Particularly with Dame Okra's sense of wit.
"'Ah children' growled Dame Okra, watching him climb. 'I forget what darlings they are.  How I long for the opportunity to forget once more.'"

But, as Seraphina travels we get to encounter even more half-dragons and see how the avatars in her mind garden compare to the actual specimen.  It was fascinating to see how the dragon side manifested in each of these people and the different motivations of each.  We are also able to see the impact of location and upbringing as we travel from Goredd, where Seraphina hid among the people of the city, to Ninys, where the Ityasaari were banished from society, to Porphyry, where they experienced their own sense of community and family.  We also see more of Jannoula, raised in the worse of circumstances and playing her own game with the people, Ityasaari and dragons.  We spend a great deal of time trying to ascertain her motivations and whether or not she can be trusted.  This adds a sense of intrigue and mystery to the plot.  
The story itself lags a little as we get bogged down in several different places.  There are instances where Seraphina appears to spend a great deal of time in limbo, never really accomplishing anything and also times when the plot is slowed by a sense of helplessness as Seraphina appears unwilling or incapable of saving the people that she loves.  There are also several sections where the author delves into metaphor and introspection, particularly with regard to the inner workings of Seraphina's mind.  The whole concept of the mind garden and Jannoula's tethering is confusing at best, and I did find my eyes glazing over when the author tried to explain them.  The rest of the plot is much stronger, particularly after Seraphina returns to Goredd and the war approaches.  

This being YA, we can't quite escape the love interest aspect, but it is particularly well done in Shadow Scale.  Here we see two characters making a conscious choice not to be together because of the pain it will cause someone they both care about.  There are also some unexpected surprises to this portion of the plot which were a breath of fresh air to someone who has seen the same old love triangle over and over again.  I was also very thankful to Harman for the inclusion of diverse characters - those of color, of all sexualities and even transgendered.  Those aspects of the characters are not a plot device, or even their defining characteristic - it is simply part of them being well-developed characters.    

Bottom Line: Shadow Scale features some phenomenal characters and an interesting plot.  It is an excellent continuation of the story started in Seraphina and, in the end, will leave the reader satisfied, even if we do wish for books in this world. 
Notable Quotables: "Oh, good - he was dead, too. It wasn't just me."

Teaching/Parental Notes:

12 and up
Sex:  Kissing
Violence: Swordplay, Knifeplay, Death by Falling
Inappropriate Language: Bastard
Substance Use/Abuse: None


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