Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

“I knew you then, I know you now, I shall know you again when you come home.”

Shadow Scale Cover

Goodreads || B&N || Rachel’s Twitter

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?

3.5 STARS

CW: suicide, murder, loss of a loved one, deadnaming, rape (character past, not on page event)

After loving Seraphina as much as I did, I wanted Shadow Scale to be the duology conclusion this series deserves. I wanted Seraphina to step into her life as half-human and half-dragon with confidence. I wanted her to navigate this tricky arrangement with Kiggs. I wanted her to get the love and support she deserves after making herself small for so very long.

And she got some of these things, but in other departments, Shadow Scale was…lacking. Maybe it’s a “it’s not you, it’s me” situation, given that this book does have a political fantasy in the war-prevention elements. There’s some degree of diplomacy and political maneuvering involved that just doesn’t appeal to me personally. That said, this book also feels poorly balanced in some ways, and I can’t help but think about that.

The key problem, I think, was that half the book is scattering wandering in search of other ityasaari, and then suddenly it pivots to scheming against the main antagonist. Who, incidentally, had such a minor role in Seraphina that it felt entirely out of place for her to take the major antagonist role in the sequel. I couldn’t bring myself to be as invested in a villain who featured so little in the first installment despite the second installment telling me “oh yes, she had her fingers in all these pies the whooooole time.” The emotional payoff just…wasn’t there.

Additionally, the relationships Seraphina had built up in the first book are almost entirely neglected in the second, which broke my heart. I absolutely adored the way she and Kiggs danced around each other, the way she and Selda started to get closer, the way even Orma shed some of his stiff dragon sensibilities to care for her in the ways he knew best. And through most of Shadow Scale, they’re just…not present. Not to mention the way the Selda/Kiggs/Seraphina dynamic plays out seems like such a disservice to all of them, a simple patch on something that could be complex.

Or, frankly, given the confession we suddenly get that uses a single line to imply Seraphina is bisexual without ever mentioning it again, it could have been polyamorous. But hey, what do I know? 🙄

My complaining aside, there were still a lot of elements about Shadow Scale that I enjoyed. For one, it was nice to finally meet the rest of Seraphina’s garden in the flesh. We get to see these ityasaari as full characters, and get to understand them much better, especially when it comes to their relationship with the pending dragon invasion and how they intend to interface with it. And in the process of getting to meet these characters, we also travel beyond Goredd, getting a glimpse of the broader world. Expanding that horizon was a delight, and I love written worlds that have such distinct and lively settings.

Additionally, Shadow Scale featured some queer rep, which was nice! I can’t say the implication that Seraphina is bi was handled particularly well, nor the concept that Selda has a crush on Seraphina (it was barely touched on, treated like a throwaway point), BUT. There is a canon trans woman treated with love and respect, and when the antagonist deadnames her, that act is treated with the appropriate anger and disgust. And on top of that, the language of Porphyry incorporates six grammatical genders, with the question “how may I pronoun you?” at the forefront of social interactions with strangers. Such a simple question, but it was wonderful to see that.

Stopping for a second to look back at all I’ve said, I realize I’ve had more complaints than praises despite giving this a 3.5 star rating. I think it comes down to me being able to articulate my complaints clearly and without spoilers, whereas the things I did like are hard to talk about without ruining the conclusion of the duology for folks who haven’t actually read the books yet. I suppose the best I can say from here is that if you liked Seraphina and want to know where the story goes, you might as well give Shadow Scale a try. It draws things to a close, and having an ending is a valuable thing in itself, I think.

Plus, there’s dragons. Dragons are always a good thing, right?

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