CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 22. . . .February 13, 2015
Shadow Scale is the epic conclusion to Seraphina, a fantasy with a Renaissance like setting about humans and dragons attempting to make peace with one another. Shadow Scale should not be read as a stand alone, but Hartman does a good job of summarizing the action of the first book so it isn’t necessary to re read it. This review will necessarily contain spoilers to Seraphina.
Shadow Scale begins with the threat of imminent war between the kingdom of Goredd and dragons. Seraphina is half dragon, and she sees visions of strange people and monsters that she now knows are other half dragons mentally linked to her. Since the unique abilities of half dragons may be crucial to defending the human kingdom from dragon attacks, Seraphina leaves Goredd on a journey through three other countries to enlist allies against the dragons and to attempt to find the people in her visions.
Her quest meets with frustration and failure. Prejudice against half dragons is strong, and the ones Seraphina finds are either traumatized or hostile. One of the people in her visions, Jannoula, has the ability to take over the others’ minds and is turning them against Seraphina for her own mysterious ends. When Seraphina finally meets Jannoula in Samsam, Jannoula is pretending to be a Saint and convincing the superstitious Regent of Samsam to fight against Goredd instead of allying with them. But then she claims to be on Seraphina’s side and helps her get away from the Regent.
In Porphyry, Seraphina encounters a number of half dragons who might be able to help her, but they are all under mental attack from Jannoula. A community of exiled dragons in Porphyry plans to sneak into the dragon kingdom and attack from within, attempting to restore the human friendly dragon king to his throne. Seraphina accompanies them. After a successful attack on a dragon facility, she discovers Jannoula’s origins in a dragon experiment and learns that, despite being imprisoned and tortured by dragons, Jannoula has been teaching them strategies to fight humans. When Seraphina returns to Goredd, she finds Jannoula there before her, with all the other half dragons under her control. She has convinced everyone in Goredd, including the Queen, that she is a Saint and that she will defend them against the dragons. Jannoula’s true plan is to get humans and dragons to destroy each other so that half dragons can live peacefully without fear. In her attempts to break Jannoula’s power, Seraphina realizes that the mental defences she has been relying on have limited her own powers. When she opens the doors of her mind, she is able to defeat Jannoula and bring the fighting to an end.
The plot of Shadow Scale has a slow beginning—there is not enough incident in the first part of Seraphina’s quest to justify the time spent on it— but, once Seraphina meets Jannoula, the conflict gets more complicated, and the plot branches out in unexpected directions.
The vivid, original world of Seraphina is expanded in Shadow Scale to include three new cultures, each with its own distinct mannerisms, beliefs and attitudes. The history of Goredd’s religion is explored, and readers learn more about dragons, gaining new insights into the context of human dragon conflict. Porphyry is particularly interesting as an example of an open minded community where, unlike everywhere else, humans, dragons and half dragons accept and respect one another.
Shadow Scale has a large cast of interesting characters—human, dragon and half dragon—and Hartman uses them to explore issues of identity, loyalty, and prejudice. The half dragons all have back stories that could be novels of their own. Jannoula is a compelling antagonist with complex motivations and frightening power. Seraphina is perhaps the weakest character in this book: she had a strong character arc in Seraphina, but she spends much of Shadow Scale observing or hearing about what other characters are doing—of necessity, because the plot has expanded to include many more actors with their own conflicts. The novel might have benefited from using other characters’ points of view in addition to Seraphina’s.
Readers who enjoyed Seraphina will be satisfied with this conclusion to a rich and original story. New readers will want to start with the first book to discover a fascinating world of logical dragons, human kingdoms, and a girl learning the truth about herself.
Kim Aippersbach is a writer, editor and mother of three in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.