Title: Shadow Scale
Author: Rachel Hartman
To give Goredd a chance in the war against the Old Ard dragons, Seraphina travels to find the other half-dragons, whose powers may be key to turning the tide. But Seraphina’s past comes back to haunt her when Jannoula reappears in her life. Jannoula was the once-friend, now-enemy that nearly took over Seraphina’s mind several years ago. And Jannoula’s sinister plan involves Seraphina . . .
I greatly enjoyed the first book, but this sequel made a disappointing finish to what had been such an interesting start.
First, the book starts with several pages of solid summary which walks through the events of the first book. As helpful as this was for someone who hasn’t read the first book in several years, I still didn’t like it. If I wanted to refresh myself on the events of the first book I can always go back and re-read it. Plus, the summary gave several things away on the front-end that absolutely drained tension from the rest of the book for me: Seraphina is seen alive and happy at 100 when the world is at peace, so you already know GOING IN that this is going to end well and that she’ll live, and the question posed about Lucian basically gives away that they don’t end up together. (Which is fine by me because for all that he’s a great character, he’s also ENGAGED, and that part always creeped me out about the relationship).
Second, despite its length, the book is primarily about Seraphina and Jannoula. Given Jannoula’s mind-bending powers, most of the other characters who get any time end up compromised, so they aren’t themselves as much as Jannoula’s puppets. In the first book there were multiple agents attacking the mysteries from various angles: Orma, Lucien, Glisselda, Seraphina, etc. People did stuff. Now only Comonot and Seraphina feel like they have consequential roles, and I actually question the latter. Seraphina spends a lot of time helpless against Jannoula. Her mind-garden connections to the other half-dragons seemed like it might be a pivotal battleground, but it does less in this story than it did in the first one, where the unexpected visions were wrecking her life. Most of the book is Seraphina wandering around looking for people and both of them playing right into Jannoula’s hand again and again. Abdo puts up a better fight than she does.
Third, some characters appeared to be there just to check a box, such as a gender-confused half-dragon, whose status has no bearing on the plot. Although the one that really annoyed me was making one female character attracted to Seraphina. There’s hardly any interaction with this person in this book, so there’s no room to set this up, and the first book didn’t really go that direction that I remember, so it felt really random and out of place.
Finally, I was underwhelmed (and also rather angry) at the ending. Seraphina feels sorry for Jannoula because she’s had a really terrible life. Granted. But at what point should Jannoula’s actions require consequences? When she starts manipulating minds so people act in ways contrary to their personalities? When she utterly possesses them and forces them to do things they don’t want to do? When she kills people directly and indirectly? Nope! Jannoula’s pain and emptiness, plus charisma, apparently make her enough of a special snowflake that nobody has the heart to kill her. At some point her actions were her choices (and I would argue that moment came when she tried to take over the younger Seraphina rather than be happy with the friendship Seraphina had offered). When do the lives she ruined become enough of a counter-balance to require justice? She’s painted as an absolute sociopath but the most anyone’s willing to do is carry her off to what presumably will be a more comfortable prison than the one she grew up in. I don’t really see that as mercy but stupidity. She’s shown no interest in anyone but herself, and nothing that would indicate this will change. Oops, but we know from the prologue that this still worked out for the rest of the world.
And that’s without getting into all the messy theology. The Saints are explored and origin stories come to light—and rather predictably have nothing to do with faith. Heaven is deconstructed to a bunch of pretty world-fire lights and some abstract thinking points by Lucien that doesn’t go anywhere. It was a disappointment because the first book gave the impression of something that wasn’t afraid to weave faith into its story, and could have been a very interesting counterpoint to the ultra-logical dragons. I don’t know why I’m even surprised it was all painted as lies.
So, although I still like the first book, I can’t see myself wanting to read this one again. There’s too much Jannoula and too little of anyone else, Seraphina feels too pushed around, and I hate how it ends. I rate this book Neutral.