Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

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.

“Powerful, fresh and imaginative” Seraphina, which I reviewed just last month (here), easily became one of the best reads of the year. Needless to say, I was absolutely ecstatic to learn that the second installment of the dilogy was less than a month away.

The quest to find the half-breeds scattered across the realms gives the readers an opportunity to further discover Rachel Hartman’s imaginary world. Intricate details, plot twists and confusing emotions about the book guaranteed.

Shadow Scale left a very conflicting impression. The journey to find the half-dragons is, for Seraphina, a journey of self-discovery. Seraphina sets off on a mission to find them, and bring them to Goredd to protect her countrymen and, ultimately, to create a sort of half-breed utopia. She quickly learns that the world does not revolve around what she wishes. The half-dragons in her mind-garden were merely reflections of real people – not all of them like her, not all of them need saving, not all of them are interested in saving her countrymen. Seraphina’s new acquaintances help her expand her horizons, but they also make her feel like a failure. When Jannoula resurfaces, Seraphina is forced to face the fact that she cannot protect her new friends.

A mind-controlling half-breed Seraphina locked inside her mind garden years before, Jannoula makes a welcome addition to the dragon universe. Manipulative, ruthless and powerful,  she is a force to be reckoned with, a young woman corrupted by torture and her desire to be loved.  In her own sick way, Jannoula tries to help Seraphina find the half-dragons, and as the events unfold, we find more about the two, the reasons why their relationship has gone sour and learn about the origins of Jannoula’s malice.

Darker darkness against the night sky“, “my door hinges shrieked like the restless ghosts of cats”… The quality of the writing remained one of the weakest points of the novel.Rachel Hartman’s vivid and compelling prose was, at times difficult to visualize. I suppose it is one of the reasons the final battle and the ending left me seriously underwhelmed, the same can be said about Seraphina/Kiggs storyline. The book touches a number of very important issues, including diversity, tolerance, acceptance of yourself and others.

All too fleetingly, we get to read about a transgender character, and yet we do to get to know anything about her transformation. At the same time, we also get a passing mention of one of the main character’s sexuality. I would have bravoed Rachel Hartman for her bravery and willingness to give bisexual and transgender characters a voice, especially in a book dedicated to a younger audience. Unfortunately, these two storylines remained underdeveloped, and instead of looking pertinent, looked somewhat forced (at least in the case of the unexpected love triangle towards the end).

Overall note: 3,5*

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Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

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