March 14, 2016

Seraphina & Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman

I just finished reading Rachel Hartman's second book, Shadow Scale. I had mixed feelings about it. Before I get into that discussion, though, I want to talk a little bit about her first book, Seraphina.

I read Seraphina a couple of years ago and found it completely captivating. The world was so complex, with multiple religions, dragons in human form (some of the most unique dragons I had ever come across), honorable characters, and interesting plot development. With all that was going on, it could have gotten bogged down in the details of world-building, but it didn't. It just worked very, very, well.

This is the review I gave it in September of 2013:

5 stars

Utterly compelling world, where dragons and humans co-exist, albeit uneasily. Dragons can take on human form, but still retain their rigidly rational and calculating thought-processes. Human emotion does not compute. There has been a peace treaty in effect for the past (nearly) 40 years, 40 years too many according to some secret and not-so-secret factions on both sides. With the political situation becoming ever more heated, any little thing could set off a war.

Meanwhile, Seraphina is a musician in the queen's court with a deadly secret--that is, a secret that could be deadly to her if it were revealed. She has a personal interest in seeing the peace upheld, so when there's a murder being blamed on dragons, she jumps in to help investigate. It doesn't hurt that the chief investigator happens to be Prince Lucian Kiggs. Not exactly available, but good friend material. At least that what she tells herself.

Complex, believable characters. Even the minor characters were flesh and blood, not just cardboard cutouts.

I will definitely keep reading this series.

Yay Seraphina, right? So it seemed that there would be a sequel, but I hadn't heard anything, and after a year or two, I sort of forgot about Seraphina. Then one day I was at the library and just happened across Shadow Scale. The sequel! To Seraphina! I was super excited to get my hands on that beauty. 

Sad to say, I didn't like this one nearly as much. However, telling you exactly what I didn't like about it will give you spoilers for #1. So, if haven't read Seraphina yet and don't want it spoiled, I will bid you farewell here.  (Bye! Come back soon!)

Now for everyone else: let's chat about this book for a minute.

3 stars: I liked it, but not as much as the first.

This book takes up soon after the first finished. So, the Queen is very ill, Princess Glisselda has taken the throne in her stead despite her youth, and Seraphina has been given the job of assistant court musician. Prince Lucian Kiggs is still betrothed to Glisselda.

The peace treaty with the dragons has never been more shaky, and in fact, the dragon themselves are at war. As the war will, no doubt, come south into Goredd, it is in the best interests of the Crown to figure out anything they can to stop it. About the only thing that seems promising is something that Saints used hundreds of years ago called St. Alabaster's Fire. Apparently, the only ones who can make this magical shield are those who have some dragon blood themselves: in other words, Seraphina and her kind.

So Seraphina is given the job to travel the Southlands and round up the other half-dragons from each kingdom, in hopes that they will all come together in defense of Goredd. She sets off, but the journey is much more difficult than she expected, in many ways. She keeps going, because she must, but even as she meets others like herself, she knows that nothing will ever be the same. That is, assuming there is life after the war for any of them.

* * * * *

I liked this one, but not nearly as much as I liked the first. I guess I've made that pretty clear. Perhaps part of it was the juxtaposition of the supposed urgency of the war effort, with this long journey. I liked that we got to see Seraphina truly coming to accept herself and her ancestry. However, for long stretches, it seemed like the action was all back in Goredd, which we would hear about in short snippets, then it was back to lots of introspection and road time for Seraphina.

Content: I'm putting this here, because the only content I had a problem with was at the end, which I'm discussing below. There's some fantasy violence, but really not much.

I have to talk about the ending, because there was part of it that came as quite a shock to me.  Yes, this will be a spoiler. Double-spoiler, actually, if you haven't read book 1 yet. Leave if you must. (Confession: I read every spoiler.)

Spoiler begins:

One of things I liked so much about Seraphina was that I felt the characters were honorable. Seraphina falls in love with the Prince in book 1, they even confess their mutual attraction to each other, but due to his engagement, they agree to stay away from each other as much as possible. Duty and promise-keeping first, even when it's hard. Yay! Good job!

So now we get to the end of this one. Glisselda comes out to Seraphina and kisses her. Seraphina's a bit confused, but still loves the Prince...but possibly also has feelings for Glisselda now. The Prince and Glisselda decide that--all things considered--they need to go ahead and get married anyway. So they do, and Seraphina doesn't mind. Here's the sentence that got me: "We three knew what we were to each other; we would plan and negotiate and build our own way forward, and it was nobody's business but ours." (p. 580)

A bit later, Seraphina makes a comment that led me to think even more that that this love triangle would not end with the marriage, but now perhaps Seraphina would be with both of them...? I don't even know. It wasn't exactly spelled out that way, but that's what I got from it. So how did we go from honorable, promise-keeping characters, to kinky threesome?  It felt like a slap in the face. What's more, it didn't fit with the characters. I was very disappointed.

Spoiler done.

Have you read either of these? Am I the only one that can't resist reading the spoilers?

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