Can’t Win for Losing: Seraphina and Shadow Scale

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 18.59.31I’m going to level with you.

You can tell because I’m sitting on a backwards-facing chair while I write this, like we’re pals on a 90s sitcom. See, the truth is, you don’t know me. This is only my third blog post, after all. How could you? (Unless you’re my husband* – in which case, Ash, you’ve heard and are bored of this rant. You can skip ahead to the footnote where I tell everyone how cool you are.)

My point is: You don’t know that I am tired as hell of YA authors birthing triplets. Most trilogies – within the recent trend – are unnecessarily drawn out, poorly paced, and simply not suited to the form. Given that fact, I was pretty surprised when I found out that the follow-up to Rachel Hartman’s “Seraphina” was being marketed as a companion novel rather than the second of three books – especially since Hartman wrote a series that could’ve used the extra word count.


The titular character of “Seraphina” is a sixteen-year-old court musician trying very hard to keep her head down. It’d be easier if the court wasn’t in chaos: someone has murdered a crown prince of the realm, and it was probably a dragon. You can roll your eyes here if you want; I did. But Hartman has a knack for understanding that non-human beings have distinctly non-human priorities, and her dragons don’t disappoint. Neither, for that matter, does her world-building.

I usually make fun of books that make up too many words, yet “Seraphina” and its companion, “Shadow Scale” have the necessary heft to balance Hartman’s linguistic creativity.

“Seraphina” didn’t surprise me with its plot twists, but I didn’t mind. The discovery that Seraphina herself is a half-dragon, that there are others, etc., was well within what might be expected. Supporting characters were nicely developed and romance, while present, didn’t play more than a minor role. Nonetheless, I was excited to find “Shadow Scale” on my list of March releases, in part because of this good first (novel) impression.

The presence of gay and trans characters (it’s like they’re real, normal people!) was a major plus**, along with the diversity of race, ability, and age within the cast***. The plot moved in both expected and gut-punching directions. I was well invested in what Hartman had set up: so much so that my little sister was left baffled when she met me for lunch and found me tearing up over my Kindle. Basically, “Shadow Scale” lived up to my expectations – in all ways but one.

Rather than showing her readers how things ended – Seraphina’s romantic decisions, the fate of her fellow half-dragons, etc. – Hartman wraps up “Shadow Scale” with a final chapter that vaguely added up to “and they all lived happily ever after.” In particular, the fate of Orma, Seraphina’s uncle, is left dangling in an epilogue that was as brief as it was dissatisfying.

Worse, it felt like there was (gasp) a trilogy’s worth of material in these books, which means I have to eat my words. Two books was not enough, not here. But a clunky ending can’t totally mar what was an otherwise fun, charming read. “Seraphina” and “Shadow Scale” are well worth any weaknesses in execution Hartman experienced.

Four sparkly wands out of five.

* Full Disclosure: We’re not actually married. Ashley is my husband because I’m her wife; she buys the beer, I buy the Doritos, and we watch Supernatural while we paint our nails. It’s the perfect friendship.

** When lgbt characters show up as more than sideshow attractions (Look at the freaks! See how they live!) I automatically love a book about 1,000% more. I don’t penalize books for being non-inclusive, but when inclusivity is done right I want to sing from the rooftops.

*** If this was a book report, I’d talk about how “different =/= weird and horrible” is a theme in these books, and how happy it makes my heart. Suffice to say I want to go back in time and give these to my teenage self with a Lisa Frank Post-It: “SEE? YOU WILL BE FINE.” More of this, please.


Three Cheers for March Releases! (None of which are featured here.)

Because my latest reads just aren’t cutting it.

22351151First up, Gigi Pandian’s “The Accidental Alchemist,” first in a series I have no intention of continuing. There’s nothing really wrong with this book, except that other authors have done it better. It reminded me strongly of Deborah Harkness’ recently-completed “All Souls” trilogy, with a smattering of Paula Brackston’s “The Witch’s Daughter.” (The former had a punchier heroine and the latter was deeper and more compelling.) Unfortunately for Pandian, that meant reading this was lot like going on a rebound date after a really amazing relationship you’re not over. But since I can’t actually fault it for not being the book I wanted to read, this one gets three sparkly wands out of five.

13600701Next, McCormick Templeman’s “The Glass Casket.” Ohhh my goddd this book. This book is not the kind of YA that adult readers can also enjoy. It drew upon “Snow White and Rose Red” – no relation to the Disney story – which is one of my favourite old-timey fairy tales. But it was slow and predictable, and I have strong disapproving feelings about books that try to sound like they’re from another time when they’re clearly not. So despite the fact that it’s a fairy tale retelling, I just can’t care enough to summon more than two sparkly wands.

Unter-The-Never-Sky-Veronica-RossiAnd finally, the rarest of books: A DNF. I never leave a book unfinished, if only because it’s hard to irritate me enough to make me run away screaming. But Veronica Rossi’s “Under the Never Sky” is so brutally cliché that every plot point in the first hundred pages* aligns perfectly with a @DystopianYA tweet. Now, look. I enjoy the tropes within genre fiction – that’s why I read it. But when an author can’t be bothered to contribute to her own book, there’s nothing that compels me to stick around for the ride. Zero sparkly wands and a fairy loses its wings.

The good news is that March brought new releases with it – including two sequels I’ve been salivating over for a long time (and one I’m indifferent to but will inevitably get desperate and read, let’s be honest). This means that there’s a high likelihood I’ll stop bitching and perk up, [Insert Spring metaphor here].

*I usually know by page 65, but 100 is a nice, arbitrary number that makes it look like I’m fair, so I make myself get to that point if I want to complain about a book here. Which, of course I do.

Hat Trick: Poison Princess, Endless Knight, and Dead of Winter

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Fun Fact: My cover of “Poison Princess” is way less… neutral than the one above. A wavy-haired blonde model clings to a broody looking young man, a lá 90s romance novels. Which makes sense, I guess, since Kresley Cole also writes in that genre. It’s a fact I was reminded of over and over while reading this series.

Wait, no, hold up. Don’t write them off yet. That’s not a bad thing – far from it. There’s a lot of romance in these books, including a dreaded Love Triangle, but Cole manages to weave the issues into the plot organically. (And is there ever a lot of plot to work with!) I got invested in this series the way my bff gets invested in telenovelas: I’m a little addicted and care way too much about the lives of fictional characters, but I can’t stop. It’s dramatic and convoluted and wonderfully aggravating all at the same time.


It’s the apocalypse. There are Bagmen (a.k.a. the BEST ZOMBIES YET), a plague, cannibals, and slave traders. There’s not much of anything left on earth, not since the sun spiked a massive flare in our direction and wiped out… basically everything and everyone except our protagonists and the above mentioned boogeymen. But it was totally on purpose, because the gods need an arena for their champions – the 22 Major Arcana of Tarot fame – to duke it out to the death. The last one left standing is immortal until the next game starts, a couple hundred years later.

Evie, the protagonist, spends the first book coming to terms with her powers as the Empress card. In “Endless Knight,” her history with Death puts everyone in danger. Reading “Dead of Winter” is how I learned that Kindle ownership isn’t all its cracked up to be. When Cole ends with a lethal cliffhanger (not literally), I was tempted to throw my book at the wall – but no. I don’t think my warranty covers “plot rage.”

This is a heavy load and a lesser author would probably get tangled up in her own web, but Cole’s got this on lock. Instead, a diverse array of characters with clashing motivations navigate centuries-old politics, the end of the world, and constant imminent danger. The plot moves along at a comfortably brisk narrative pace and my suspension of disbelief isn’t drawn too thin. Did I mention she does all this without info dumps or extensive “Previously On…” sequences? Yeah. I’m having so much fun I don’t even care that the protagonist can’t pick a boyfriend (or husband).

Fair warning: this series contains underage sex. That’s about all I’d really say about it; I can’t judge a book for being honest about what teenagers would do if parental supervision was literally a thing of the past. It also contains a limited amount of Questionable Relationship Behaviour; Evie is either several years or several centuries younger than Death (depends on how you count) and both of her relationships are manipulative to varying degrees. On a Creeper scale of 0 to Edward Cullen, though, neither boy rates above a Mr. Rochester and Evie doesn’t put up with much.

There’s gore and psychological/physical/emotional torture, but your average Game of Thrones reader would consider it pretty light fare. Cole’s plot twists are often foreshadowed by the Fool Card’s incoherent warnings, but there’s not much that can’t be sussed out or guessed ahead of time. Point being? This book didn’t make me work hard for anything, and sometimes that’s nice.

Three sparkly wands out of five, with the potential for improvement in later books.