Shadow Scale


Rachel Hartman


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

September 25, 2020

here is a lot to like in Shadow Scale, the sequel to Seraphina. The best part is the return of Seraphina, the plucky heroine of this series. Hartman does an excellent job of portraying Seraphina as she confronts tough challenges and endures frustrating defeats. But Seraphina keeps plugging away, and her kindness and strength of character keep shining through. The reader can't help but cheer for her.

I enjoyed the first half of Shadow Scale. Seraphina goes on a quest to find her fellow ityasaari - people like her, half dragon and half human. She journeys through the kingdoms of Samsam and Ninys, before setting forth to the city-state of Porphyry. Seraphina is aided on her quest by her loyal friend, Abdo, who can see the magic "fire" that glows around all the ityasaari. Seraphina, alone of the half-breeds, cannot see this shimmering light, and she wonders why. I think there are seventeen ityasaari, Seraphina dreams of collecting them all together, imagines them living as a family, where they would be accepted for who they are, rather than living isolation, rejected, scorned and outcast by dragons and humans alike. But Seraphina discovers not all the ityasaari share her happy vision of harmony.

Hartman creates a nice cast of distinct interesting characters, each with their own quirks and personalities. There is Nedouard, the plague doctor. Od Fredricka, the accomplished muralist. Blanche, the tiny recluse who constructs clever mechanical mechanisms and spiders.

Unfortunately, in the second half of the novel, the party of ityasaari that Seraphina worked so hard to collect is shunted into a minor role. They are separated from Seraphina and play only a background role as the plot develops, which is too bad, because I found them all interesting. Even Abdo is left behind as the story advances.

The villain of the novel is another ityasaari, the mysterious Jannoula. Jannoula seems to have incredible mental powers. She can "hook" the mind of anyone, compel them to act as she commands. Seraphina's mind was invaded by Jannoula, but Seraphina tricked Jannoula, and sealed her away. But few others have Seraphina's mental skills, and so fight against Jannoula's attack before succumbing and becoming her obediant servant. I didn't really like this major plot point. Reading fantasy requires a willing suspension of disbelief (there are firebreathing dragons! The dragons can transform into humans!), but I had a hard time believing that Jannoula's mind can control a seemingly limitless number of people, and over an infinite range. There is no shielding from her force, and even when Jannoula is sleeping, her control remains unbreakable. How can Jannoula possibly focus on so many different people?

I was puzzled by Jannoula's age. She seems to be just 16 years old, about Seraphina's age when they first make contact. Jannoula is imprisoned, abused and tortured by the dragons. Yet Jannoula appears to have been part of the dragon "experiment" in which hundreds of ityasaari where deliberately created to see what talents would appear in the half-breeds, but this would make Jannoula hundreds of years old. Jannoula manipulates the dragons into freeing her by demonstrating herself to be a master strategist in battle, yet during Seraphina's time, dragons and humans have been at peace for forty years, so there were no battles for Jannoula to command. I think I missed something about Jannoula. I wasn't even sure what all of her machinations were leading up to - simply to create as much destruction as possible? What was her ultimate goal?

Shadow Scale is enjoyable because it brings back the major characters of Seraphina, Prince Kiggs, Princess Glisselda, Abdo and of course Seraphina. If I had not read Seraphina first, this book might not be rated as highly, because too many of those characters are off of the stage for much of this novel. I like how Hartman develops her characters, and I like her world building. I see she has another novel out, Tess of the Road, so I will add that to my booklist.